Steel brings precision to construction
The Finnish Parliament extension, the former Nokia head office, Ilmarinen’s head office, Kamppi Centre, Sello shopping center… Just about every Finn has encountered Architect Pekka Helin’s work. Scandinavian minimalism, large glass surfaces and an abundance of wood are typical characteristics of Helin’s work.
Another example is the unconventional use of stainless steel. Helin has received many awards for his use of steel structures, both in Finland and globally – most recently last autumn, when he received the European Urban and Regional Planning Award for his overall plan for the former airport area located in Fornebu, Norway. He has also introduced Scandinavian minimalism, for instance, to South Korea and China, where he designed blocks of flats.
If anyone can explain why steel is so captivating, Helin can.
“I don’t know if it’s a question of being captivating – the benefits of steel are just so great that it is a sensible choice,” he says.
“It doesn’t need to be coated, which makes it more environmentally friendly; it can withstand all kinds of weather and corrosion; it’s easy to keep clean, easy to work into a ready form at the plant and works well with other materials,” he lists.
“In addition, it is more fire-resistant than carbon steel. Stainless steel does not require fire protection, which is costly and wear-sensitive; avoiding fire protection thus results in clear cost savings. Finland has not yet taken great advantage of that yet, for example, in structures,” says Helin.
The material choice must be considered by the architect at a very early stage. Already when designing the load-bearing structure, the architect must know what it will be made with. On the other hand, the more artistic side of the building, its facade, is a big determinant of the material choices. Stainless steel has a unique character that also considerably defines the character of the building it’s used in.
“Steel has an authentic and clean appearance. It brings precision and a measure of controlled dimensions to the architecture of a building. At the same time, there’s a certain lightness to it,” says Helin.
Even though stainless steel is considered a very Finnish element in architecture, the French, for example, use it more in their buildings than Finns do. Italians also favor the Scandinavian style that stainless steel represents.
“Naturally, using it requires planning, know-how and industrial prefabrication, which makes it a more expensive purchase than, for example, aluminum or carbon steel. Savings are, however, generated later, in many stages,” says Helin.
According to Helin, the Finnish element is a value that should be promoted in Finnish architecture – also in materials. But that is not always possible. Material suppliers for public buildings are chosen through a competitive bidding process, which then opens the door for the use of non-Finnish steel. Helin is, however, pleased that he has been able to use Stalatube’s domestic stainless steel in many of his projects – even after competitive bids.
“I would really love to see even more Finnish stainless steel produced. For example, there is demand for hot-rolled, acid-proof steel profiles, but they are not available in Finland. The same goes for the steel mesh used in facades and interior spaces,” concludes Helin.