Suvilahti gasometer with red balloons
Suvilahti (Swedish: Södervik) is a former energy production area in Sörnäinen, Helsinki. Construction of a steam turbine electrical power plant was completed in 1909 and a gas plant in 1910. The buildings were constructed using the then revolutionary steel-reinforced concrete method. The architect Selim A. Lindqvist was influenced by Viennese Art Nouveau or “Jugend” architecture. Voimalaitos (power plant) represents one of the monuments of Finnish architecture and has been compared to Helsinki’s Central Railway Station in terms of significance. A lively working-class neighbourhood developed around Suvilahti. Local products included bread, soap, bricks, matches and even elevators. The Suvilahti power plant was closed in 1976 upon completion of the new Hanasaari B power plant. The buildings were converted into warehouses and sports facilities. Already in the 1980s Suvilahti was used to stage production by the KOM Theatre. Gas production was discontinued following the introduction of natural gas in 1994.
Various cultural actors and enterprises gradually began moving to the area, and in 2008 the administration of Suvilahti transferred to Kiinteistö Oy Kaapelitalo, a real estate company which began developing, renting and maintaining the facilities. Kiinteistö Oy Kaapelitalo is owned by the City of Helsinki. The company is also responsible for the facilities at Kaapelitehdas (Cable Factory) in Ruoholahti, Helsinki. Industrial environments and urban cultures have always gone together hand-in-hand. Just like a hundred years ago, young people are again flowing into Suvilahti – this time to add their art to the graffiti wall and listen to bands.
For over a century Suvilahti generated energy for Helsinki residents. Now the form of energy has changed from electricity to culture. Suvilahti represents a long-term project and will never be officially opened with any inauguration ceremony. The mission is to maintain this historically unique industrial environment and rent out its facilities. This work will proceed one building at a time for at least the next ten years. Buildings awaiting repairs will be made available for a wide range of temporary, limited and short-term uses.
The somewhat chaotic nature of the next few years promises that this will be an exciting time. The area and its buildings provide a virgin environment in which to break barriers while creating new urban culture. Already today Suvilahti offers visitors an environment that is worth checking out. The atmosphere in the factory courtyard should be experienced right now, and behind an increasing number of the doors are tenants whose activities can be seen and heard to be generating energy.
Suvilahti encompasses nine buildings and two large gasometers. Work, atelier and performance spaces are constantly being renovated at Suvilahti for use by artists and artist groups, while the area is already home for e.g. a graffiti gallery, photography studios, writers, event and TV production companies and advertising agencies. Suvilahti’s unparalleled advantages include its diversity, spaciousness, peace and quiet, and excellent transportation connections. The required building inspections, basic repairs and renovations will take years; at the moment it is estimated that the buildings will be filled by lessors and activities in 3 to 5 years and that technically the buildings will be at the same level as Kaapelitehdas in approximately 10 years. The large courtyard area is used for outdoor events.
The transformation of the Suvilahti area into a cultural centre is part of the broader development plan for the Sörnäistenranta and Kalasatama districts. The cargo harbour at Sompasaari moved to Vuosaari in 2008, and the vacated space will be used to create a new urban district over the next years. The district will eventually house around 18,000 residents and 10,000 workplaces.
Visit www.suvilahti.fi for more information.