1990s

At the turn of the 1990s, City Hall had reached the end of its technical road and many felt it was no longer appropriate for housing a modern city administration. A 1998–1999 modernisation by the architects’ office Aki Davidsson was limited its renovation to the first stage of Ruusuvuori’s project, the southern part of the City Hall block.

 

The plastering and plasterwork on the façade were renewed. The faded building was repainted in blue and the wings in light pink. The building was fitted with new systems that met modern standards.

Asbestos, a popular building material of its time that is now classified as hazardous, was a big problem, as there was plenty of it in City Hall. Asbestos in the ceilings was replaced with a cotton-based acoustic spray. The original lamps in the lobby, designed by Ruusuvuori, were kept, as well as the original colour scheme of the corridors, the placement of doors and many electrical fixtures.

 

The greatest functional changes were made in the lobby. The cloakroom was moved to the back of the area, and Eino Ruutsalo’s kinetic Light Wall was relocated to border the area. New lift doors opened up  both sides of the lobby, and the room was cleared in the middle for an information desk to serve customers.

Source:
Aki Davidsson: Renovation of Helsinki City Hall. In The Lionheart of the City 1998.

2000s

The City Hall lobby was opened up to the public in November 2008 as a part of an effort to bring life back the old Empire-style city centre. The plan was to make the City Hall lobby an open living room for the city’s residents. Helsinki-tiedotus, the city’s informational services, moved from Jugendsali in the neighbouring block to the City Hall lobby, as did an exhibition facility. The information office was renamed Virka-info and the exhibition facility Virka gallery.

 

Another major change was to punch out a new door to the side street of Sofiankatu in autumn 2009. Jorma Puranen’s photographic collection Where Compasses All Go Mad was placed inside the adjacent stairway. Eino Ruutsalo’s Light Wall (1971) was turned 180 degrees towards the coat racks by the back wall. This created a large and impressive space for exhibitions in the middle of the lobby.

Exhibitions that presented Helsinki from different viewpoints were organised often in the Virka gallery. Thanks to its size and simple style, Virka gallery was well suited to photographic exhibitions, and numerous famous photographers showed their work there. Many concerts and other events were held in the lobby space and Banquet Hall. The number of visitors grew from year to year, as tourists discovered the City Hall and its services.

2010s

In 2012, Helsinki celebrated 200 years as the capital of Finland. The same year, Helsinki was also named a World Design Capital. An essential part of the World Design Capital year was the opening of many previously closed facilities to the public. Virka gallery opened the lobby’s stunningly grand toilets to the public in a new way.  A daring art exhibition called FLUSH! was organised in the opulent restrooms, with interesting pieces of contemporary art from notable young artists on display.

 

The heads of state of Nordic countries celebrated Finland’s 100-year centennial in City Hall’s Banquet Hall in the summer of 2017 by having lunch with the newly sworn-in Mayor of Helsinki, Jan Vapaavuori. The festive year was crowned by a visit to the Bridge exposition by Kersti Kaljulaid, the President of Estonia. The Bridge exhibition celebrated the concurrent centennial anniversaries of the neighbouring countries.

In the last decade, the City Hall has been visited by, for example, the Nordic heads of state and the Presidents of the Baltic countries. There have also been guests from several other European countries, as well as from Asia, Africa and Australia. The latest guest was President of the Republic of Korea Moon Jae-in in 2019, for whom a traditional lunch hosted by the Mayor was held in the City Hall’s beautiful Banquet Room.

In 2009, over 50,000 people visited City Hall. By 2017, however, the number had increased tenfold to over half a million visitors. As the City Hall had been built in the 1970s for office and representational purposes, the structures and materials in the lobby were not durable enough to sustain such large visitor numbers. The delicate sandstone floors and brass-detailed design toilets that Ruusuvuori had designed 50 years earlier were starting to deteriorate.

 

The lobby’s function was once again reinvented in autumn 2018, bringing an end to information services and exhibition operations in the space. In spring 2019, an event square was unveiled in the middle of the lobby for hosting events and occasions. A media wall was put up in place of Eino Ruutsalo’s Light Wall. A long-awaited door connecting the lobby to the City Hall’s restaurant was also finally added.