Get to know City Hall

The current Helsinki City Hall was first established as Hotel Seurahuone in 1833. The Empire-style building was designed by the German-born architect Carl Ludvig Engel. In its time, Seurahuone was the finest hotel in Helsinki and a major venue for celebrations and socialising. Hotel Seurahuone closed in 1913 and the building was officially inaugurated as the Helsinki City Hall in 1932.

 

In autumn 2020, it will be 50 years since City Hall was renovated to its present form according to a plan from the Finnish architect Aarno Ruusuvuori. The new modernist architectural style, completed in 1965-1970, was felt to mirror the city’s modern and democratic values better than the decorous imperial style. After the renovation, the only things remaining from Seurahuone were the façade, the entrance colonnade and the 19th-century Banquet Hall. In 1985–1988, Ruusuvuori supervised the build of a new council chamber and restaurant in the City Hall block.

Nowadays, this building composed of various architectural layers is a popular meeting point for the city’s residents. The Helsinki City Hall has witnessed the progress of Helsinki and Finnish society from its central vantage point for decades.

Lobby

When entering City Hall from the Market Square, you are greeted by a reminder of the city’s imperialist past: an original entrance colonnade from the designer of Helsinki’s iconic Senate Square, Carl Ludwig Engel. The entrance leads to a modern lobby, which ushers the visitor into a modest open space.
Aarno Ruusuvuori wanted to design a spacious and coherent lobby space, so he decided to demolish a restaurant named Kaupunginkellari that existed on the lower floor. Frescoes that beloved Finnish artist and author Tove Jansson had painted for the restaurant were moved and are now on display in the Helsinki Art Museum HAM.
The lobby features several works of art from the collections of the Helsinki Art Museum HAM. Visitors can freely admire the original works, procured for the lobby in the late 1960s and early 1970s. These pieces, which include Chain (1971) by Kimmo Kaivanto and City in the Sun (1975) by Rut Bryk, as well as the contemporary photographic collection Where Compasses All Go Mad (2007) by Jorma Puranen, all blend seamlessly into the unassuming atmosphere of the building’s lobby space.
The City Hall lobby was opened to the public in autumn 2008, part of a move to bring life back to the Tori Quarters, a group of historic buildings located in the city centre. The change also signalled the opening of a general information centre known as Virka-info and the Virka gallery exhibition venue. Between 2008 and 2018, thousands of residents and tourists visited the City Hall lobby annually. Numerous exhibitions, concerts and presentations were held in Virka gallery, and events associated with the annual Helsinki Day and Night of the Arts were also held in this space.
The lobby’s function was reinvented entirely in 2018. A year later, it was reopened as an event square and display window that highlighted the current and future city of Helsinki. The public is welcome to stop in anytime for a visit or to listen to what is happening in the space. They can also seek out information on municipal matters of interest to them and even have a say in the city’s development. Residents are now free to attend all of the events held in the City Hall lobby – and even book the venue for their own events.

Façade

All residents and people arriving to Helsinki by sea know City Hall’s powder blue façade overlooking the Market Square. The Hotel Seurahuone and its preserved façade, designed by Carl Ludvig Engel, is an integral part of Helsinki’s magnificent Empire-style city centre. Above the pillar-supported balcony and connected to the mayor’s reception hall, Helsinki’s Coat of Arms looks out towards the fortress island of Suomenlinna over the glimmering sea and busy market stalls.

 

Even though the façade with its pillars may seem original and unchanged at first, these too have experienced changing art trends throughout the different eras. At first, the façade was Engel’s preferred shade of pale yellow, then, an even lighter shade of yellow, followed by rose, yellowish green, white and light blue, greyish green, and at the start of 1950s, greyish lilac. The current colour scheme is the ninth, and was designed by the artist Anitra Lucander.

City Council

The new building in the centre of the City Hall block, known as the Lion Block, was built in 1988. It was also designed by Aarno Ruusuvuori, as part of the second stage of the City Hall renovation. You can find the current council chamber in this building. In past years, the Helsinki City Council has assembled in the City Hall block’s Empire Room by the Senate Square, and later in the White Hall of Pörssitalo (the Helsinki Stock Exchange) and the City Hall’s Banquet Hall. The current facility is the first assembly hall in Helsinki that was intended specifically for the City Council’s use.
The City Council is the highest decision-making body in Helsinki, and its members are elected every four years in municipal elections. The City Council’s main responsibilities are the city’s operations and finances. The City Board operates under the City Council and is chaired by the Mayor of Helsinki. Helsinki’s Deputy Mayors are also members of the Board. The 85 councillors in the City Council assemble in the council chamber every other Wednesday, as a rule.

City Council meetings are open the public, who can follow the proceedings from a public gallery in the chamber or tune in remotely via the city’s streaming service Helsinki-kanava.

The Registry

Helsinki has one common Registry office that serves all of its residents, in addition to the city’s personnel, elected officials and different authorities. You can find the Registry office to the right of the City Hall lobby.

 

The Registry accepts administrative documents, such as initiatives, complaints, opinion requests and applications. The Registry registers all of the city’s incoming and outgoing documents and decisions in the city’s common administrative register. Letters from residents are sent on from the Registry to the relevant parties.

The Registry gives information about the progress of pending administrative cases and decisions throughout the whole handling process. The Registry also manages the noticeboard for the city’s public notices, which is located in the City Hall lobby.

Restaurant

The City Hall courtyard’s restaurant was built in 1988, at the same time the council chamber was being renovated. The restaurant is open to the public, so be sure to enjoy a cup of coffee there when you are in town. You may suddenly notice that you stay for lunch, too! While you dine, you can admire Michael Schilkin’s entertaining ceramic relief depicting the hustle and bustle of Market Square.

 

City Hall’s adaptable restaurant has catered to food lovers for many years. Both royalty and presidents have dined at the restaurant during their visits.  A hearty lunch and coffee with other delicacies are always on offer. The flavours are largely Finnish, with an occasional international touch. This venue and its professional catering services are also available to rent.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, there may be some limitations. Please check the latest updates from the restaurant’s website.

Banquet hall

In the centre of Ruusuvuori’s minimalist and starkly modernist City Hall lies a surprisingly ornamental Banquet Hall that reflects the aesthetic of the late 19th century. Hampus Dahlström designed the Banquet Hall room, and Bruno Granholm later expanded it. There have been many concerts, balls, receptions and other events under the crystal chandeliers over the years, often honouring invited guests. The Banquet Hall also has the distinction of having hosted several premiere performances of works from famous Finnish composers, such as The Wood Nymph by the master composer Jean Sibelius. The first cinema performance in Finland was also took place in the Banquet Hall in 1896.

 

The City Council assembled in the Banquet Hall from 1932–1965. During events at the Virka gallery, several concerts and other such public events were held in the hall. These days, the Banquet Hall at the Helsinki City Hall remains one of the city’s top venues for social receptions.

During Ruusuvuori’s renovation, the Banquet Hall was held in place with columns, whilst the lobby beneath it was transformed into its present guise. The historic room’s location in the heart of the modern City Hall building creates a strong contrast between the Banquet Hall exterior and interior.