Helsinki Station is Not Getting a Facelift

Helsinki’s Deputy Mayor for Urban Environment, Ms. Anni Sinnemäki, has said that the city has a plan to change the area around Helsinki’s Central Railway Station a building that the BBC has described as “the world’s most beautiful railway station” in 2013- see above photograph.

She said: ”One of the most central places in the Helsinki city centre is changing – above all, to become more comfortable for pedestrians. Elielinaukio is already visited by about 38,000 pedestrians every day, and this number will be even higher in the future. It is great that development ideas for this location are being sought through a high-grade, international architectural competition.”

But all is not in a nice and shiny in this station and change is definitely needed. Do we need one more massive building fro prime office space and expensive hotels, or do we need a clean efficient station that 38 000 commuters and tourists and more can be impressed with? 

Let’s take a look at the present situation there…

Helsinki’s main railway station splits the centre of the city into two parts because a network of rail lines are above ground for 5 kilometres, with just four bridges spanning the rail lines. 

On the ground level inside and outside the station pedestrians are surrounded by cars, trams, buses and parked cycles because this is a main route from east to west and a place to and from people commute every day. It is busy with traffic that has never been carefully planned for this heavy number of commuters and traffic.

The area around the station is untidy, filthy in many parts, crowded and not the best place to spend the day. Police and security guards patrol must the area to maintain normal levels of security. Nobody wants to stand inside the station waiting for friends and relatives… It is a place where you go if you have to, and nothing more. You feel uncomfortable and threatened. There are no waiting rooms with seats – it is just a cold, hard rather unpleasant place. 

It is populated by drug dealers and drunks, small groups of young people, the homeless and unemployed. Buskers and some religious groups with loud speakers are found outside in the adjacent square there too. This area is also not at all pleasant and definitely not a place to wait around.

Litter is every where mainly from the dozen fast food stalls inside the station. Many doors are broken for months and walls are covered in graffiti and dirt. The station owners, the government and the State Railways, appear not to worry too much that the station is dirty, run down and not well-maintained. They appear to want fast food companies to pay the highest possible rent rather than having high quality food stalls offering good local food, rather than hamburgers and more hamburgers with Coca-Cola!

There is also another aspect – many tourists now use the trains to go to and from Helsinki airport. The trip is fast and cheap. And cheap it is – the trains leave at the far end of the platforms without any roof protecting them from snow rain and slush. The paths through the station are narrow, crowded, and dirty. You can hardly describe the rail commuter experience as uplifting when faced with such a poorly managed space. This is not what Visit Finland is offering in their beautiful pictures of a snow white clean paradise – what are these owners thinking?

It is clear when looking at this “International Competition” that the chosen winners will not  renovate the station, the square or the platforms along which and through which the 38 000 tramp through each day. These changes are just an excuse to raise money for the city from building developers who have been promised the best locations in the city in return for developing “new green surroundings”. The architectural drawings are beautiful with trees and attractive restaurants… the reality will most certainly be something totally different. The station will turn into a massive muddy building site for years and the result will be a cold office building with expensive shops and probably another hotel…   

If you look at the entries you will see that none of them do much for commuters except put monster-sized buildings on top of a small bus station, one older building and part of the square. 

This is the winning entry called Crossing!

The existing commuter pathways and square will basically stay the same. The big winners here are the landlords who get to claim huge windfalls from new prime office space right next to the station. The cars, trams, buses and bikes will still use most of the same space and nothing is being done to improve the commuters life, except that they will have less space while being many more in numbers. 

The new building will fill a relatively small space already surrounded by big buildings meaning that the wind factor will increase dramatically.

When you look at similar development sites in London, Tokyo, Stockholm, Hamburg, Vienna, Berlin you will see that new buildings are built about the railway lines not around them as has been done in Helsinki. Stations have been upgraded to be safe, well lit and clean. The competition has not included such a solution which would bring joy and life to the existing commuters and travellers who are made to suffer the daily trudge through a cold and dirty station twice each day!

It is obvious that our politicians have never really thought about making the station a comfortable and happy place for commuters. 

The Deputy Mayor’s promise, “one of the most central places in the Helsinki city centre is changing – above all, to become more comfortable for pedestrians,” are just empty words!

 All the photos are from the International Competition Site…

Site Footer