HELSINKI, FINLAND, October 22, 2016 – Helsinki, Finland is known as the “Daughter of the Baltic.” It is a city of the sea. But one of the most popular attractions in this thriving Scandinavian metropolis is an architectural wonder called Temppeliaukio church.
Problems with the pronunciation? Don’t worry, just call it the “Rock Church.”
Situated in the heart of Helsinki, the church is located at the end of Fredrikinkatu in the district of Töölö. At first glance it appears to be nothing more than a huge out-cropping of rock bulging above the street. A closer look however, quickly reveals a street-level entrance to one of Finland’s most interesting buildings.
Finland is a country known for its creativity in furniture design, crafts, glass-making and architecture.
It is also a land that has given us such illustrious architects as Alvar Aalto and the father/son team of Eliel and Eero Saarinen. If the name Saarinen is unfamiliar, Eero’s contribution to the American landscape is not. It was Eero who designed the St. Louis Arch which represents the “Gateway to the West” in the United States.
Temppeliaukio is a story about an architectural competition that began more than seven decades ago in the 1930s. A plot of land was selected in Helsinki for the construction of a church, but the contest committee became unhappy with the initial results.
In 1936 a new contest was announced with the implementation of the project awarded to Johan Sigfrid Siren. In 1939, the outbreak of World War II interrupted construction for a second time.
After the war, a 16-year hibernation followed until a third contest was announced in 1961. This time the honors were awarded to the Suomalainen brothers, Timo and Tuomo.
Due to financial considerations, plans for the church were reduced to about one-fourth of the original concept.
Eight years later, in September of 1969, the church opened directly inside the hollowed out granite that once occupied the square. Throughout the autumn of 1969 more than 100,000 visitors came to the church and the sanctuary was frequently full during services.
By 1971, the name was changed from Taivallahti to Temppeliaukio, or its more popular designation as the “Rock Church.”
Interior designs bathe the sanctuary in natural light from a skylight in the copper dome in the center of the building.
Among the unanticipated bonuses from the project are the outstanding acoustics created by the rock surfaces that comprise the interior walls. While the Suomalainen brothers did give acoustic considerations for the walls at first, they were not part of the initial design entry.
When Finnish conductor Paavo Berglund gave Mauri Parjo, an acoustical engineer, some background on utilizing the wall surfaces to take advantage of the exposed rock, the brothers rethought the idea and opted to the acoustical elements to their concept.
Today, when it is not in use as a house of worship, the Rock Church is often serves as a popular concert venue.
Even with its mid-20th century design, like so many things in Finland, the Rock Church retains a contemporary ambience. Finns are inherently lovers of nature, so it is not surprising to see colors that reflect the various shades of granite and other types of stone within the country.
Benches are constructed of native Birch. The floor is polished concrete while the pulpit is reinforced concrete. The altar is made of evenly sawn granite while water trickles from cracks in the rock along specially designed ducts.
The copper dome spans a diameter of nearly 80-feet, and the distance from the highest point in the floor to the top of the dome is 42-feet.
Though Temppeliaukio has no bells, the organ, designed by Veikko Virtanen, features 43 stops and 3001 pipes.
Despite its beloved status today, the history of the Rock Church is not without controversy. During the early stages of construction, many citizens of Helsinki wanted a traditional cathedral on the site.
At that time, a major famine was grabbing news headlines from a place called Biafra which had seceded from eastern Nigeria in 1967. Many Finns believed the construction of the church was an extravagance and immoral at a time when the money could be better spent on Biafran relief.
Today the Rock Church is no longer controversial. Though not a landmark that would make a traveler visit Helsinki on its own, it is definitely an attraction that will enrich your stay.
Temppeliaukio is the product of Finnish ingenuity. Ingenuity that transformed a massive lump of stone that everyone “took for granite” into a living “rock of ages.”
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About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
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