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Nordic Arts Centre

The building, originally a Russian barracks, lies on Suomenlinna Fortress Island between two bastions, with a pedestrian way running through it. It was built in 1866–68 as accommodation for 500 soldiers on the site of a smaller barracks that dated back to the period of Swedish rule. After the Civil War, in 1918, 1,747 Red prisoners were crammed into it. Conditions were so crowded that they had to sleep in shifts on the floor. From 1919 up to the end of the 1930s Finnish soldiers were billeted in the building. In the early 1940s it was divided up into living quarters of various sizes. In 1972 these were demolished and the space was allocated to the National Museum as a central warehouse. From the autumn of 1985, it was used by the Nordic Arts Centre, and after a chequered history, it has now been adopted as its new centre by the Helsinki International Artist Programme.

It is a single-storey rendered building, made up of thirteen barrel-vaulted areas running across the building, with a narrow corridor in the centre. The style is Classical – somewhere between Empire and Neo-Renaissance. Elevations were originally quite ornamental, but were altered to their present form in the early 1870s. At the end of that decade the original turf roof, which was leaking, was replaced by a sheet-metal mansard roof.

In the renovation, the clean-line spatial geometry of the building was preserved. Inside, the numerous small rooms and auxiliary areas typical of modern spatial programs were grouped in separate “cubes” on the centre corridor, allowing the original arch of the vaulting to continue uninterrupted above the new walls.

In its new role, the building has been used for many different functions; it contains art studios, assembly and storage spaces for exhibitions, a small exhibition room, office and meeting rooms, a photography laboratory and an apartment. New air-conditioning equipment and main electrical wiring were installed under the floor in a special tunnel. Installations in the studios were left visible on the walls of the vaults. The complex may be functional but it inspires and serves a very wide range of individual and communal activities.