Monday, June 27, 2016

Temppeliaukio: Helsinki's "church in the rock"

Entering this spectacular space from the dim, low-ceilinged foyer is breathtaking. The vast, copper-colored dome looms overhead like an alien spacecraft in a sci-fi movie. The first impression is that it floats, even though the ribs that bind it to the earth--to the rock--are visible all around. The space is carved out of the rock, which has been left rough-cut and raw.

I can imagine it being remarkably peaceful. But imagination has to suffice when it is open to the public because, as one of Helsinki's most popular attractions, it is nearly always packed with tourists from all over the world. This is the main street entrance to the church.

Temppeliaukion Kirkko was designed by Finnish architects Timo Suomalainen and Tuomo Suomalainen and completed in 1969. Although I've never been to Helsinki before, I have long been familiar with the church from photographs, having used them as examples of Modernist style for decades when I taught architecture. Seeing it was especially thrilling because of my personal history with it.

A 360 ° skylight not only is responsible for the floating effect of the dome but also admits natural light around the entire circumference of the rock-walled space.

Walking around the outside, the structure of the building is almost completely hidden. The dome is protected by a formidable rock wall. 

The church, which includes parking, administrative and educational spaces, and a cafe, occupies an entire city block--although an unusually circular one. The original rock faces that dominate the park-like setting serve to make the interior all the more marvelous upon reentry. 

The church is made all the more remarkable by the contrast of its setting, surrounded as it is by traditional, very simple multi-story residential buildings.

So, if you're ever in Helsinki, don't miss this. It's easy to find, near the center of the city. Just ask anyone about the church of the rock. (They all speak English, too, so no worries on that score.)

Stay tuned for more from Helsinki and also from St. Petersburg as I get to it.

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