Steven Holl Architects wins international housing competition in Helsinki, Finland

Steven Holl Architects’ Meander has won the international competition for the Taivallahti Residential Area in Helsinki. The competition was organized jointly by the City of Helsinki and Senate Properties. The other three finalists were: Dominique Perrault (France), Jo Coenen (The Netherlands) and Cino Zucchi Architetti (Italy). Meander was praised by the jury for adding a new elegant element to Helsinki’s urban silhouette and for its fresh residential thinking.

The competition area is located in Helsinki’s cultural and historical (Sibelius lived nearby) district Taka-Töölö along the Taivallahti Bay. The site is enclosed by the Taivallahti Barracks, two apartment buildings and an office block. From within the bounded inner block Steven Holl Architects’ 8886 sm Meander rises in section towards the sea horizon, providing breathing space to the historic barracks and maximizing views and sunlight to the 49 apartments in the new building.

The 180 meter long glass building with a height varying from two to seven floors, meanders across the rectangular courtyard like a musical score, shaping garden void spaces within the block. Meander is carried by load bearing perpendicular concrete walls, and glazed with horizontally hinged panels of intelligent glass to maximize control of light and solar gain. This glass skin of the building slightly varies in shade from transparent to opaque with thermal elements and functions like a chameleon skin. During the evenings, the building glows like an ice sculpture. The apartments, ranging from 62 sm to 222 sm, all have private saunas, balconies, and views of the sea or of Hesperia Park. Pivoting walls maximize user control on spatial variations. Among the public spaces for residents is a rooftop sauna with sea views, which opens onto a jogging track spanning the full building length. For the design and construction of Meander, Steven Holl Architects is collaborating with Vesa Honkonen Architects (Helsinki, Finland). Meander is the second project for Steven Holl Architects in Helsinki; in 1998 the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art opened its doors to the public. This museum, considered as one of Steven Holl Architect’s major works, received the National AIA Design Award in 1999.