House of Culture (Kulttuuritalo)
Alvar Aalto 1952-58
The House of Culture in Helsinki is Aalto in his 'red brick period'. He achieves the free-form curves of the concert hall walls using wedge-shaped bricks, arranged variously with their shorter edge facing inside or outside the wall. The impact of the solid brick walls must be seen in the context of what had gone before. In Finland, the National-Romanics had used wood and granite to show closeness to Finnish nature, while the modern movement (as elsewhere) used more abstract white plaster surfaces (which did not wear well particularly in the Finnish climate). Aalto's red brick was therefore a bigger statement than it now seems: a man-made material that keeps its individuality and local personality.
As Aalto described it,
An ordinary wall brick is a seemingly primitive object. If properly made, refining materials obtained from the earth itself, using them in the right way, and linking them to the whole correctly, the brick, however, forms the basic unit of the most precious monuments built by humankind; similarly, the brick is the basic element of social comfort in a giving environment.
The House of Culture combines a concert hall (in curved red brick), an office building (a conventional rectangle in form, but with a visually strking facade brought alive by greening copper), and a lecture-theater block connecting the two. Uniting the whole, along the street frontage, is a 60-meter canopy.
The House of Culture was build for the Finnish Communist Party, during their rapid ascendance in the 1950s. The year of completion of the building, 1958, marked the high point of their electoral success, with their umbrella group winning the highest number of parliamentary seats.
Simon Glynn 2007
How to visit
The House of Culture is to the north of Helsinki's city center, a short walk to the east of the main Mannerheimintie road. The exterior is visible directly from the road (Sturenkatu).
To see the interior, ask at the door, call +358-(0)9 7740 2711 or fax +358 (0)9 7740 2777. Or, go to a concert in the concert hall: try www.kulttuuritalo.fi.
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