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I've been fortunate enough to visit Helsinki Airport (HEL) several times during my years with Airports International and I wouldn't hesitate to place it among those that have impressed me the most.

I'm no architect, but I have always thought its aesthetics ooze quality; even the control tower looks futuristic.

Although HEL has a single passenger building it has two designated areas, T1 (domestic) and T2 (international). The latter occupies about 75% of the building and it is there that the majority of the redevelopment is taking place.

Today it is in the middle of an eight-year [euro]1bn development plan, partly funded by the European Union, that is retaining its traditional values while dramatically changing its appearance.

In 2017, a consortium comprising ALA Architects, HKP Architects and Ramboll Finland won the tender competition to upgrade and extend the airport's Terminal 2 (T2).The task was to deliver an airport that could handle 20 million passengers a year, and the winning concept was called City Hall.


Airport operator Finavia had predicted that 2019 would deliver a "transformation". Its technical director, Henri Hanson, explained that the early work was centred on upgrading its long-haul facilities before attention switched to expanding T2.

My last visit, in February, was for a preview of the new Aukio (meaning hall in English) that is now the heart of the international transfer facility (see the March 2019 edition of Airports International for more information).

As expected, while the Aukio was gleaming new, the exterior of the terminal was a building site as the redevelopment was well under way.

The terminal expansion actually comprises two building themes as 'City Hall' contains the 'Security Box'. City Hall houses the departure and arrivals halls, while, as the name suggests, Security Box contains the security check and baggage claim facilities.T2's original departure and arrival areas are being transformed into gate areas. Finavia said this revised layout provides both passengers and services with plenty of additional space.

The airport operator's aim is to simplify the building's structure in such a way that the passenger will instantly understand the whole process, from arriving at the terminal, to boarding their aircraft.

The City Hall area will become the new face of the terminal, while the dramatic blue Security Box is encountered later in the journey. In keeping with the airport's long-standing use of wood and glass features, the new departure hall will have a continuous area, uninterrupted by walls, that is covered by an undulating wooden ceiling built of pre-fabricated spruce-clad glulam (laminated) elements.

ALA Architects says its design was greatly influenced by the massive plywood wall sculpture called Ultima Thule that the Finnish government commissioned from the influential post-war Finnish designer Tapio Wirkkala for the Nordic pavilion at the Expo 67 in Montreal. His influence was such that his glassware, which goes under the same name, is still being used in the first class cabins of Finnair's long-haul flights today. It's worth mentioning that another artwork presented at that same 1967 event has been a longstanding feature of the airport.

Laila Pullinen's bas-relief 'Sun of the Fells'- said to express the forces of nature--was one of the highlights of the old terminal building which opened in 1969.

After 40 years on display it was relocated to the long-haul area of the modern building in the summer of 2009 and can now be seen adjacent to gate 32 in the non-Schengen area.

First impressions

When complete, passengers arriving at the 'front door' of the redeveloped T2 will see an undulating roof--a continuation of that inside the building-which covers the drop-off area and protects visitors from the elements. Remarkably, the architects say the rainwater running off the building will be collected into a pool on the plaza that will inevitably change shape and size with the seasons.

In the winter it even turns into a skating rink, but it isn't yet clear whether health and safety regulations will permit its use.

Passengers travelling to the airport will access the building via the lower level, regardless of whether they arrive by bus, train, bike, foot or emerge from the adjacent short-term underground car park. Large openings in the upstairs departures hall will allow views through to the lower level.

ALA has explained that the expanded building's design was influenced by Finavia's desire to adhere to the oft-quoted 'four pillars' that are deemed to encapsulate what good customer service should include: smooth processes, a wide selection of services, unique architecture and friendly staff. The architect said the "straightforward routes" and clear visual references--the Security Box will be visible from the main entrance --will clearly map out the passengers' journey through the building. The overall design "aids intuitive orientation".

Meanwhile, as this edition was being prepared, Helsinki reached its latest milestone with the opening of its forest-themed West Pier.

It provides an extra 140,000sq ft (13, 000[m.sup.2]) of additional space, five gates equipped with jet bridges, two new restaurants, a Plaza Premium lounge (located near the Aukio) and a new child care room. The new pier was designed by PES-Architects.

Tuomas Silvennoinen, its head designer, explained: "Its wall surfaces are decorated using 9m-tall wooden reliefs made from Finnish birch. The three-dimensional surfaces convey the mood of fluttering foliage and old wood-shingled roofs."

It has treelike charging stations for mobile devices and the large luminaires made from translucent plywood which are meant to evoke images of Finland's natural landscape.

At the recent unveiling ceremony, airport executive director, Joni Sundelin, said: "The once small Helsinki Airport has developed and grown to such an extent that it now competes with big airports. Helsinki has the best connections in the Nordic countries and is in fifth place in Europe.

Competition for passengers continues to be intense.

"We want to stand out by providing an exceptionally good customer experience and responsible operations.

We strive for smooth and safe processes, and to enhance our services and work hard to ensure that emissions from airport operations do not increase as the number of passengers increases. All our airports are carbon neutral."
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Author:Allett, Tom
Publication:Airports International
Geographic Code:4EUFI
Date:Jul 1, 2019

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