The renovation of Helsinki’s Olympic Stadium, which included the addition of a multi-purpose extension and a new roof, has won the prestigious Finlandia Prize for Architecture.
The award often recognises the history and importance of older buildings in Finnish society, and last year’s winner was the modernist Serpentine House apartment complex, located in the Käpylä district of Helsinki.
Coincidentally, renowned Finnish architect Yrjö Lindegren was involved in the original design of both this year's winner and last year's. The 1938-constructed Olympic Stadium was designed by Lindegren and Toivo Jäntti, and was closed for four years while it underwent a major renovation, which was completed in August.
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The Finlandia Prize winner this year was chosen by singer-songwriter and actress Paula Vesala.
"This national monument is not just a statue to look at," Vesala was quoted as saying in a press release. "The action that takes place within its walls form those special moments of our lives: highlights, tenacious training sessions, disappointments, sweat, charm, victories and defeats. Efforts have been made to take into account the needs of a diverse group of users, but on the terms of the old building."
Vesala added that she was most impressed by how the protection and repair work was carried out on the stadium, which respected the original spirit and appearance of the functionalist building.
"The magic of the Olympic Stadium has not only been preserved, it has gained more brilliance," she said.
Olympic Stadium’s colourful history
The renovation was planned by two architectural firms, K2S and Architects NRT, with architects Kimmo Lintula of K2S and Kari Raimoranta of NRT credited as the main designers.
"The challenge was to create a functional entity in which the new architecture and the old, starting from different points, complement each other," Raimoranta said.
The Olympic Stadium is a protected building, so the renovation was planned and carried out in close cooperation with the Finnish Heritage Agency.
In addition to its architectural value, the building has played an important role in the history of Finland. The stadium was supposed to host the Olympics in 1940, but the competition had to be canceled due to the outbreak of World War II.
The event was held in the stadium 12 years later, however.
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As well as sporting events, the Olympic Stadium is also a well-known concert venue, and the reopening of the stadium after the renovation had been due to be celebrated with a series of concerts, which were cancelled due to the coronavirus crisis.
In total, the four-year refurbishment project cost more than 300 million euros, and there were reports regarding the treatment and underpayment of workers at the site.
The Olympic Stadium claimed the prize ahead of three other nominees, which included Aalto University's new campus building in Otaniemi, the K-Kampus in Helsinki's Kalasatama and the Toritalo building in the southern city of Kotka.
The Finlandia Prize for Architecture is awarded annually by the Association of Finnish Architects (SAFA).