Empire and Jugendstil
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All of Helsinki's architecture is of fairly recent vintage, because no trace at all of the city's first couple of centuries remains. Among the rare relics of the market and garrison town that Helsinki was in the latter half of the 18th century are the Sederholm House (1757) beside the Senate Square and the fortress of Suomenlinna. A major fire in 1808 did enormous damage, but also cleared the way for the grandiose plans that were put into effect when the city was elevated to the status of capital in 1812. The city plan that Johan Albrekt Ehrenström drafted then created a structure that is still visible in the city centre. It was within this framework that the architect Carl Ludvig Engel created the monumental centre in the variant of Neoclassicism called Empire.

The main buildings include the University of Helsinki and, on the opposite side of the Senate Square, the edifice that now houses the Government. When the Lutheran Cathedral (then the Church of St. Nicholas) was consecrated in 1852, the last major Engel structure, and one that has dominated the cityscape ever since, had been completed. Other important Engel buildings in the city include the Naval Garrison on the peninsula of Katajanokka (now used by the foreign ministry), the Guard Barracks (which houses the Ministry of Defence and GHQ) and an observatory.

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The University Library in Helsinki is regarded as Engel's most beutiful building.

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Dating from the same period is the Presidential Palace, designed by Pehr Granstedt and originally the residence of a wealthy merchant, which stands beside the Market Square and the harbour.

The Neo-Renaissance style made its advent in the latter half of the 19th century. The most important buildings dating from that period are Theodor Höijer's Ateneum art museum beside the Railway Square, the House of Nobility and the Bank of Finland, both of which are behind the Lutheran Cathedral, as though to form an extension of the monumental centre. Many of the buildings along the northern fringe of Esplanade Park likewise date from the same period.

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Jugendsali exhibition rooms

Image size 14 Kb The two first decades of the 20th century added Jugendstil in its National Romantic form to the Helsinki cityscape. The preferred material was grey Finnish granite. Among the main monumental buildings completed in the 1910s are Eliel Saarinen's Railway Station and the National Museum by Herman Gesellius, Armas Lindgren and Eliel Saarinen. Several other buildings from that period, such as Lars Sonck's Stock Exchange Building, are still prominent features of the Helsinki architectural landscape.

After Finland had become independent in 1917, a kind of Neo-Antique style gained a foothold. One representative of this is Johan Sigfrid Sirén's Parliament Building, an impressive structure with massive granite columns. The Functionalist trend that began in the late 1920s was an attempt to break free of historical styles and create simplified buildings that were meant more to suit a purpose than to decorate. It gradually began to show in the cityscape and public buildings.

After the second world war, Finnish architects and urban planners assumed an even more visible profile on the international scene. The best Functionalist masterpieces by Alvar Aalto had become famous decades earlier, but now he left his mark on Helsinki in the shape of the Social Insurance Institution's headquarters, the House of Culture and the Rautatalo commercial building, all completed in the 1950s. Then came Finlandia Hall, completed two decades later and destined to become one of the symbols of the city, and the controversial Enso head office.