The City block has served as a business place since the early 20th century. The restaurants and shops that served customers in the Citycenter business block in past decades are still living in people's memories. Nobody wants to efface that history. Real-life roughness is and will be an essential part of the spirit of this lively shopping centre. The famous and protected 'sausage', which is a bulging concrete railing, has been cleaned and renovated, too.
It was this railing that gave the building its nickname. In the 1970s the Makkaratalo building, between the main railway station and the Student Houses, was a popular gathering place for young people.
Now Makkaratalo, built in 1967, is in the middle of the final stages of its great metamorphosis. The flagship of concrete architecture is becoming a lively, brightly-lit shopping centre called Citycenter. It has retail space on two underground floors and three floors above the street level. Natural light floods into all floors from the newly-made opening at the centre of the building. Modern energy-efficient LEDs even add the lightness.
The parking deck has gone. It has been replaced by the third floor of the shopping centre.
“Above the shopping centre there are still five floors of office space,” points out Seppo Oksanen, Manager of the shopping centre.
But how on Earth is it possible to fill all these shops and floors with entrepreneurs and customers?
“Location is our strength. We’re smack in the middle of Helsinki, “ says Oksanen.
He's right. The Citycenter complex is right at the core of Helsinki city-centre, facing the main railway station, at the intersection of tram and bus routes. The Helsinki Metro unloads its passengers just below the building.
“The planned Länsimetro project is, of course, a positive thing for us. It will, in due course, bring customers directly from Espoo into the shopping centre,” says Oksanen with a smile.
Made to order
The Makkaratalo building has a history of which it has been said that it leaves nobody cold. Nor has it done so in the past. Architect Viljo Revell was commissioned in the late 1950s to sketch out a plan for a City-block connecting the Stockmann department store with the railway station. Around the same time plans were being made for the Helsinki Metro. The city grew and became livelier with new concrete buildings rising up and cars and lorries beginning to fill the streets.
At the same time Viljo Revell was designing the Toronto City Hall in Canada, where he was living for most of the time. This situation resulted in the City-block project continuing more as a teamwork project.
The original mammoth plan was downsized so that it only consisted of the present Citycenter building, which is huge in itself. A building in the inner court designed by Eliel Saarinen was kept, and all renovation work was done showing appropriate respect to the City Passage.
The wildest visions included an option for a 14-floor hotel tower, but this idea was abandoned at an early stage.
First outcries of resentment were heard when the so-called Skoha building, designed by Theodor Höijer, was demolished. It used to house the Suojeluskuntain kauppa Oy. Viljo Revell did not live to see the completed Citycenter, as he died in 1964.
The 1960s saw a wealthier Finland with more and more vehicles filling the streets. That's why Revell gave so much prominence to cars in his plan. His idea was to have a car park which would not be built undergound but above the street level.
Revell's car deck for 400 cars was massive. It was built so wide that it formed a canopy over the footways. A semi-circular concrete railing was designed to soften the overall impression. This elongated bulge, the famous 'sausage', grew during the construction work and was hard to get approval for. The approval came as late as 1971. By then, the massive 'sausage' had already been there for years.
Sponda updated these ideas to better correspond to the new millennium and new plans for the Helsinki pedestrian centre. This time, it was the cars' turn to make room for people as brightly-lit walking, shopping and recreation zones were developed to replace the car deck on the third floor. Part of the plan is to convert Keskuskatu street into a pedestrian zone. This final stage will be carried out by the city of Helsinki upon completion of the Citycenter project.
For Sponda, the Citycenter business block is an asset to be cherished and developed in the long term. This premium piece of real estate used to belong to Leonia Bank (now Sampo), which sold it to Sponda in 1999. The adjacent Hermes block was acquired in 2003 from OKO. The central location and historical importance of the building slowed down the process of getting the necessary permits and, therefore, construction work began only in 2006.
It's a real challenge to tear down old structures and build new ones in a fully-built-up city centre. Life went on in the business block despite the demolition and construction work. The shops kept their doors open and safe passageways were provided for pedestrians throughout the entire project. Additional challenges were caused by the age of the block as modifications carried out through the decades were not always documented according to present standards.
The Shopping Centre Manager, Seppo Oksanen, has confidence in the people's new 'living room'.
“At the moment, all commercial space available is occupied, and I'm sure new premises will find takers quickly. We're going to have a great fashion centre here, complemented by cafés and other recreational facilities.
- Designed by Viljo Revell and Heikki Castrén.
- Built in 1967.
- Located in Helsinki, at the corner of Kaivokatu and Keskuskatu streets, opposite the main railway station.
- Acquired by Sponda in 1999.
- The 'sausage' was protected in 2005.
- Renovation work started in 2006
- The Citycenter will be completed late 2012 or early 2013.