The Uusi kemia and Vanha kemia buildings in the Metropolia block are a fascinating pair, melting various layers of the previous century into a unique whole. Soon, the classrooms will be transformed into urban Lumo homes full of history.
Only a year ago, these hallways were packed with IT students. Now, the old classrooms are used for yoga lessons, art classes and dancing. In a few years, they will become homes for new residents.
Metropolia University of Applied Sciences was the last user of the block bordering Hietalahdentori at the heart of Helsinki, originally housing the Helsinki University of Technology. In 2017, Kojamo purchased the buildings and a dozen of other buildings from the City of Helsinki with the intention of primarily transforming them into apartments.
More than 70 unique urban apartments are currently being planned in the facilities previously housing the department of chemistry, located between the palatial main building dominating the view at the edge Hietalahdentori and the Alexander Theatre. The buildings, located in Bulevardi 31 and Lönnrotinkatu 34, are an architecturally diverse and valuable complex in need of considerable alteration work.
“The plan proposal has been submitted to the decision-makers. Once the plan is legally valid, we’ll still need a building permit. We may be able to start the work towards the end of 2021,” says Project Director Heikki Hirvonen.
Meanwhile, the Tilajakamo cooperative is renting out the facilities for artists, associations and other organisers.
“I think it’s great that the buildings see some use in this interval and don’t just stand there empty,” says Hirvonen.
Vanha kemia is the old Uusi kemia
The Helsinki University of Technology moved to Hietalahti in 1877, and the old chemistry laboratory built behind the main building soon turned out to be too small. The red-brick Uusi kemia (‘new chemistry’), designed by architect Onni Tarjanne, was constructed behind the old laboratory in 1898 and expanded in 1921.
The block suffered heavy damage in the bombings of the Winter War and the Continuation War, and the original chemistry lab was completely destroyed. In 1949, another Uusi kemia, designed by Johan Sigfrid Sirén, was built on the site of the original laboratory, whereupon the previous, red-brick Uusi kemia was renamed Vanha kemia (‘old chemistry’).
Vanha kemia is a sturdy brick building from the turn of the century, featuring three-metre floor-to-ceiling height and transversal arches. Uusi kemia represents simplified, postwar modernism and the innovative experimentality of its time. According to Hirvonen, the lighting globes in the corridors, for example, were used for ventilation as the heat produced by the lamps warmed up the fresh air drawn into the globes.
The buildings are protected in the city plan. Some of the indoor spaces to be conserved include the magnificent coffered ceiling in the large classroom at the Bulevardi-facing side of the building as well as the semicircle stairwell connecting the two buildings.
Apartments needed in the city centre
Renovated in the 1980s and expanded here and there, the buildings are a mixture of different construction techniques and materials.
“We have just now started studying the buildings and designing the building services engineering,” says Hirvonen.
The electricity, water supply, plumbing, ventilation and thermal insulation must be updated to meet modern standards. The roof will be slightly elevated with more apartments in the top floor.
“In terms of its layout, the school building is great for apartments as the sizes of the classrooms match modern needs. The number of windows determines the sizes of the apartments,” says Hirvonen.
All in all, Kojamo’s Metropolia project will introduce about one thousand new apartments to downtown Helsinki. Hirvonen believes that the rental apartments in Uusi and Vanha kemia and the hotel planned for the main building will have a considerable impact on the southwest end of Bulevardi.
“The city centre can’t be just business premises. Residents make the area vibrant and bring life in the evenings as well.”
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