Helsinki International Airport – departures and arrivals building
By : ALA Architects
GRANDS PRIX DU DESIGN – 15e édition
Discipline : Architecture : Grand Winner
Categories : Public Building / Institutional Building : Gold Certification, Platinum Winner
The newly opened expansion of Helsinki Airport brings adventure and romance back to air travel. It also improves the functionality of the airport, built in multiple phases starting from the 1950s. In 2016, the airport operator Finavia launched a design competition for the expansion and modification of terminal 2. The competition task included relocating the departures and arrivals halls to a new building so that the existing departures hall of terminal 2 could be turned into gate areas for Schengen area flights.
The 43,000 SqM departures and arrivals building comprises two distinct volumes; the first defined by its wooden ceiling, the second by its blue color. In addition to the departures and arrivals halls, the first volume also contains a ground travel center, and the second the areas for security control, customs and baggage reclaim. As the new building connects directly to the existing terminal 2, it follows the traditional logic of separating the flows of departing and arriving passengers onto different levels.
For years, architects have aimed at creating illusions of flying and of overall lightness with their designs for terminal roofs and ceilings. This is true also at Helsinki Airport – the ceilings of the older construction phases are seemingly lightweight and tectonic. Even the ceiling of the new departures hall plays with the concept of lightness but combines it with extreme weight. The use of steel structures has enabled the construction of both the column-free departures hall and the massive entrance canopy. These structures are hidden inside the ceiling made of prefabricated timber units. Its thickness is noticeable when looking at the deep recess of the skylight in the center of the check-in area. The plasticity of the overall form however makes the ceiling seem as if it was floating in the air. The flowing shapes of the spruce boards resembling contour lines turn it into an upside-down version of a three-dimensional map that leads the passengers’ thoughts towards the sky above the runway.
The low-rise blue security control volume between the new departures hall and the old terminal is recognizable already from further away. The color continues from the exterior cladding to inside the building. When entering the departures hall, the departing passengers will immediately notice the blue area behind the check-in kiosks. In addition to improving recognizability, the blue color also has a calming effect in the sometimes-stressful security control situation.
On the lower level, the first thing the arriving passengers see after having passed through customs, is a nature diorama, a freeform installation with living trees, shrubs and stones in a large cor-ten planter. The diorama combines the characteristics of Finnish nature with Japanese garden art. When looking up through the diamond-shaped opening above the diorama, the arriving passengers will see both the wooden ceiling of the departures hall and the blue sky visible through the large skylight.
The expansion was built according to the BREEAM Excellent standards as one of the first alliance projects in Finland. It opened to the public on December 1st, 2021 and will be fully functional by June 2022. The new main entrance will then serve all passengers: from summer 2022 onwards the airport will have all its functions practically in one terminal.