Olympic Stadium strikes gold with modern take on heritage architecture

After a four-year, €300 million overhaul, Helsinki's renovated Olympic Stadium brings the 1930's design into the 21st century.

File picture of Helsinki Olympic Stadium, August 17th, 2020 / Credit: News Now Finland

Helsinki’s iconic Olympic Stadium, a field of dreams for thousands of athletes over the decades, is open again for sporting glory.

After four years of renovations, the results of a €300 million makeover showcase the original 1930’s architecture with a 21st century twist.

The first event at the stadium takes place on Wednesday evening with a National League fixture as Helsinki’s HJK take on Vantaa’s PK-35.

The biggest, obvious change to the venue is the addition of a new roof which covers most of the spectator seats which were exposed before – only one section of the original stadium was covered – and those old wooden seats have been replaced by new wood-plastic composite chairs. There are a few gaps in the timber roof coverage, a necessity to retain some of the original architectural features.

Excavations have moved storage and logistics underground, freeing up space around the stadium, which hosted the 1952 Summer Olympic Games. There’s also impressive new facilities for competitors, spectators and media inside the stadium.

“What we did was really to try this approach to make the most of what you’ve got” says architect Kimmo Lintula.

One of the main upgrades is the running track, which is completely new and up to the latest specifications for international athletics. Athletes also “have new dressing room areas, they can access straight from the bus and separate ways to come on the track and field” Lintula explains. The locker rooms have saunas and ice baths, massage space for physiotherapists, and are linked to the training facilities.

“There wasn’t much of a flow earlier, so now the athlete flow is like it should be for the future stadiums” Lintula tells News Now Finland.

An underground running track allows for training whatever the weather, as does a basketball court and large gymnasium; with an auditorium, conference rooms and restaurant facilities too.

File picture of Helsinki Olympic Stadium, August 17th 2020 / Credit: News Now Finland

Restoring some original features

The renovation programme didn’t just add new modern elements to the building’s design, as part of the construction, the original entry points for the stadium were re-opened again as architects had intended.

“I think the main difference between the old and the renovated one is that you actually enter here via access from the north and the south, and this is an idea that came from the ’30s originally” Kimmo Lintula explains.

Sporting activities are only one part of life at the Olympic Stadium, which has seen huge music concerts and other live events; and also includes office space, and will host corporate events too.

“It’s obvious that a stadium is for big events, but you have big events maybe once a year, twice a year, and then really really big events you might have once every ten years. So it means you have to have these everyday functions that keep the stadium alive” says Lintula, who says there were several rounds of consultations which went into planning the best use of spaces to incorporate into the new design.

“We tried to ensure that whatever spaces there are, you are able to use them in multiple ways” he adds.

The renovation of the stadium, a fixture on the Helsinki skyline since it was opened in 1938, has not been without controversy. The cost of the refurbishment increased over the last four years, while critics say the support pillars for the new roof restrict views of the pitch, and that the athletics track could have been moved out of the stadium completely to make it more football-friendly.

Kimmo Lintula says he thinks the original architects would like the updates they’ve made to the venue.

“I think what we’ve done here is that this is still a very utilitarian building. Whatever new things we have done, we aimed to have high quality architectural features. So I think they combined with the original architecture very well.”