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Risen from ashes - Alvar Aalto and post-war Rovaniemi

Rovaniemi suffered badly in World War II, as approximately 90 percent of buildings in the town centre were destroyed in 1944. The rebuilding process started quickly after the tragedy, and was led by Alvar Aalto (1898-1976), who is widely regarded as one of Finland’s national architects.

The Reindeer Antler Town Plan

Rovaniemi is the capital of Lapland, and what would be more fitting than to have the town shaped like a reindeer, the iconic animal of the area? Aalto’s genius vision has central Rovaniemi wrapped inside the reindeer’s head, with the Keskuskenttä sports stadium as the eye. Roads leading north, west and south make up the antlers.

Rovaniemi Administrative Centre

Aalto’s main work in Rovaniemi is the administrative and cultural centre, also known as the Aalto centre, which consists of Rovaniemi City Hall (pictured), Rovaniemi City Library and Lappia House, a congress venue and the home of Rovaniemi Theatre.
The library was constructed first, in 1968, followed by Lappia House in 1976, which was the last building Aalto saw completed before his death in the same year. The city hall was completed posthumously in 1986, the plans of which were finalized by Aalto’s architect wife Elissa Aalto.

Housing by Alvar Aalto in Rovaniemi

Besides large public projects, Alvar Aalto also designed housing in Rovaniemi. The Korkalorinne residential area features row houses and apartment buildings in parklike surroundings, and in central Rovaniemi, several buildings designed for the Aho business family were planned as part of a tight urban milieu.

A wider front of architects

Another central figure in Rovaniemi architecture is Aalto’s contemporary Ferdinand Salokangas, who designed several administrative buildings and housing in town. The best known are Rovaniemi Fire Station and the Town Hall of Rovaniemi Market Town (pictured) that has since been refurbished into Arctic Light Hotel.

Arktikum - the Arctic embodied

Besides housing the Regional Museum of Lapland and Arctic Science Centre, Arktikum is one of Rovaniemi’s most recognizable buildings. Opened to the public on December 6th, 1992 to mark the 75th anniversary of Finland’s independence, Arktikum was designed by Danish architect group Birch-Bonderup & Thorup-Waade. The building’s iconic glass tube represents the frozen finger of the north, the direction it points in.

Korundi - from post bus depot to a house of culture

One of the few buildings in Rovaniemi not destroyed in World War II was the post bus depot built in 1933. Having served multiple purposes over the decades, the depot was converted into Rovaniemi Art Museum in 1986, and later remodelled to Korundi House of Culture. Korundi was designed by architect Juhani Pallasmaa and is home to Rovaniemi Art Museum and Lapland Chamber Orchestra.

Pilke - an extraordinary wood construction

Owned and operated by Metsähallitus, the Finnish Administration of Forests, Science Centre Pilke is entirely built of wood. The building represents Metsähallitus’ environmental policies and 90 percent of materials used come from inside Finland. Designed by wood building specialists APRT architectural studio and opened for the public in 2011, key guidelines for the building were set by sustainability, natural light and the surrounding hill and river landscapes.

The Jätkänkynttilä ("Lumberjack's Candle") bridge - a modern icon

If there is one landmark Rovaniemi is known for, it’s the Jätkänkynttilä Bridge. Opened for traffic in 1989, the 320-metre bridge connects Ounasvaara to the town centre. Jätkänkynttilä takes its name and shape from a type of torch carved from wood by lumberjacks, a common trade in 20th century Rovaniemi.

Tour Rovaniemi architecture

Most pieces of essential Rovaniemi architecture lie close to each other and can be toured on foot in a couple of hours. Even the outlines of the reindeer antler town plan can be followed to an extent. Directions for self-led tours are available at Rovaniemi Tourist Information on Lordi’s Square in the very centre of town.