Carl Ludvig Engel (1778–1840) was appointed to design a new city centre all on his own. He designed several neoclassical buildings in Helsinki. The focal point of Engel's city plan is the Senate Square. It is surrounded by the Government Palace (to the east), the main building of Helsinki University (to the west), and (to the north) the enormous Cathedral, which was finished in 1852, twelve years after C. L. Engel's death. Subsequently, Engel's neoclassical plan stimulated the epithet, The White City Of The North. Helsinki is, however, perhaps even more famous for its numerous Art Nouveau (Jugend in Finnish) influenced buildings of the romantic nationalism, designed in the early 1900s and strongly influenced by the Kalevala, which is a very popular theme in the national romantic art of that era.
Helsinki's Art Nouveau style is also featured in large residential areas such as Katajanokka and Ullanlinna. The master of the Finnish Art Nouveau was Eliel Saarinen (1873–1950), whose architectural masterpiece was the Helsinki central railway station.
Helsinki also features several buildings by the world-renowned Finnish architect Alvar Aalto (1898–1976), recognized as one of the pioneers of architectural functionalism. However, some of his works, such as the headquarters of the paper company Stora Enso and the concert venue, Finlandia Hall, have been subject to divided opinions from the citizens.
Renowned functionalist buildings in Helsinki by other architects include the Olympic Stadium, the Tennis Palace, the Rowing Stadium, the Swimming Stadium, the Velodrome, the Glass Palace, the Exhibition Hall (now Töölö Sports Hall) and Helsinki-Malmi Airport. The sports venues were built to serve the 1940 Helsinki Olympic Games; the games were initially cancelled due to the Second World War, but the venues eventually got to fulfill their purpose in the 1952 Olympic Games. Many of them are listed by DoCoMoMoas significant examples of modern architecture. The Olympic Stadium and Helsinki-Malmi Airport are in addition catalogued by the National Board of Antiquities as cultural-historical environments of national significance.
As a historical footnote, Helsinki's neoclassical buildings were often used as a backdrop for scenes set to take place in the Soviet Union in many Cold War era Hollywood movies, when filming in the USSR was not possible. Some of the more notable ones are The Kremlin Letter (1970), Reds (1981) and Gorky Park(1983). Because some streetscapes were reminiscent of Leningrad's and Moscow's old buildings, they too were used in movie productions—much to some residents' dismay. At the same time the government secretly instructed Finnish officials not to extend assistance to such film projects.
In the 21st century Helsinki has decided to allow the construction of skyscrapers. Several projects are already in progress, mainly in Pasila and Kalasatama. The tallest with 40 floors will rise at least 150 meters (500 feet). In Pasila, twenty new high rises will be erected within 10 years. In Kalasataman Keskus REDI, the first 35-story (130 meters) and 32-story (122 meters) residential towers are already under construction. Later they will be joined by a 37-story (140 meters), two 32-story (122 meters, 400 feet), 31-story (120 meters) and 27-story (100 meters) residential buildings. In Kalasatama area, there will be 30 high-rises within 10 years.
The biggest historical museum in Helsinki is the National Museum of Finland, which displays a vast historical collection from prehistoric times to the 21st century. The museum building itself, a national romantic style neomedieval castle, is a tourist attraction. Other major historical museum is the Helsinki City Museum, which introduces visitors to Helsinki's 500-year history. The University of Helsinki also has many significant museums, including the University Museum and the Natural History Museum.
The Finnish National Gallery consists of three museums: Ateneum Art Museum for classical Finnish art, Sinebrychoff Art Museum for classical European art, and Kiasma Art Museum for modern art. The old Ateneum, a neo-Renaissance palace from the 19th century, is one of the city's major historical buildings. All three museum buildings are state-owned through Senate Properties.
The Design Museum is devoted to the exhibition of both Finnish and foreign design, including industrial design, fashion, and graphic design.
Helsinki has three major theatres: The Finnish National Theatre, the Helsinki City Theatre, and the Finland Swedish Svenska Teatern. The city's main musical venues are theFinnish National Opera, the Finlandia concert hall and the Helsinki Music Centre. The Music Centre also houses a part of the Sibelius Academy. Bigger concerts and events are usually held at one of the city's two big ice hockey arenas: the Hartwall Areena or the Helsinki Ice Hall. Helsinki has Finland's largest fairgrounds.
Helsinki is home to two full-size symphony orchestras, the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, both of which perform at the Helsinki Music Centre concert hall. Acclaimed contemporary composers Kaija Saariaho, Magnus Lindberg, Esa-Pekka Salonen and Einojuhani Rautavaara, among others, were born and raised in Helsinki, and studied at the Sibelius Academy. The Finnish National Opera, the only full-time, professional opera company in Finland, is located in Helsinki. The opera singer Martti Wallén, one of the company's long-time soloists, was born and raised in Helsinki, as was mezzo-soprano Monica Groop.
Many widely renowned and acclaimed bands have originated in Helsinki, including Hanoi Rocks, HIM, Stratovarius, The 69 Eyes, Finntroll, Ensiferum, Wintersun, The Rasmusand Apocalyptica.
The Helsinki Festival is an annual arts and culture festival, which takes place every August (including the Night of the Arts).
Vappu is an annual carnival for students and workers.
Helsinki Arena hosted the Eurovision Song Contest 2007, the first Eurovision Song Contest arranged in Finland, following Lordi's win in 2006.
At the Senate Square in September / October 2010, the largest open-air art exhibition ever in Finland took place: About 1.4 million people saw the international exhibition of United Buddy Bears.
Helsinki is the 2012 World Design Capital, in recognition of the use of design as an effective tool for social, cultural and economic development in the city. In choosing Helsinki, the World Design Capital selection jury highlighted Helsinki's use of 'Embedded Design', which has tied design in the city to innovation, "creating global brands, such as Nokia, Kone and Marimekko, popular events, like the annual Helsinki Design Week, outstanding education and research institutions, such as the University of Art and Design Helsinki, and exemplary architects and designers such as Eliel Saarinen and Alvar Aalto".
Helsinki also hosts many film festivals. Most of them are small venues, but some have gained renown even abroad. The most prolific would be the Love & Anarchy film festival (also known as Helsinki International Film Festival), which features films on a wide spectrum. Night Visions Film Festival on the other hand focuses on genre cinema, screeninghorror, fantasy and science fiction films in very popular movie marathons that take whole night. Another popular film festival is DocPoint, a festival that focuses solely ondocumentary cinema.
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