Saturday, June 27, 2015

Helsinki ABC's and 123's

A recent trip to Finland opened my eyes to a treasure house of beautiful letters on buildings there.  The capital city is full of visual treats.

 A unique Helsinki residence facade.
Like many cities, Helsinki went through a period of prosperity--theirs occurred around 1905-1915--during which whole new neighborhoods went up.  To showcase their modernity, young architects specified the new, sleek Jugendstil, which was then known more commonly in France, England, and the US as Art Nouveau.  They interpreted it in a fresh, distinctly Finnish way, with coils, local materials, and historic colors.  
But if you look closer at those entryways and signs, and if you are a letter-noticer like me, you begin to see wonderful calligraphy as well as ornament.  I took a few snapshots of letters and numerals in the chilly rain, and hope to get more on a return visit next year.    

Finns use a lot of coils.  

I love that numeral 1.  
Swans, a characteristic motif of Jugendstil

Names of businesses, private homes, and apartment houses offer lots of Jugendstil letters.  Complete with their awkward spacing.  Note the first 5 letters above.   

We don't see as many examples of this charming letter style in American cities, because our downtown building boom had already come and gone a little earlier, when Gothic Revival dominated late 19th century architecture.  Finland also did not share America's 1950's booming prosperity following WWII, which swept away many smaller, older American city neighborhoods that had housed the now out-of-style Art Nouveau. The Finns were actually obligated first to pay war reparations to the Soviet Union.  It sounds surreal. Periods of economic stagnation, however, tend to be periods when people make do with older buildings; that's how all those Gothic Revival buildings survived in Boston, and how Jugendstil buildings survived in Finland.   

Today dozens of doorways, lintels, and plaques delight the strolling tourist in Helsinki.  Only one kind of passerby is immune to the charms of Jugendstil.  Check next week's post to find out who, and why.   



  1. Oh, I was so excited to see a new post from you in my inbox today. Thank you! Learning about the new-to-me Finnish architecture and lettering is fascinating!

  2. You are back!!? Welcome back. Missed your posts so very much. (:happy:) (:dance:)