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After its near total destruction in World War Two and restoration by famed Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, Rovaniemi has become known as a hidden architectural gem of the North. Visitors to the city are amazed not only by the winter landscapes but also by the stunning, modernist architecture. These are some of the best buildings in Rovaniemi to visit on an architectural tour.
The first completed building of the Administrative and Cultural Centre designed by Aalto, the others being the neighbouring Town Hall and Lappia Hall, the city library is a marvel inside and out. Completed in 1965, the exterior is lean and multi-faceted while the inside is simple yet refined. Students and book lovers have plenty of space amongst the rows of shelves and the walls are designed to draw in as much natural light as possible due to Rovaniemi’s short hours of winter sunlight.
A phenomenal museum held in an equally phenomenal building. Arktikum was designed by Danish architects Birch-Bonderup & Thorup-Waade and opened in 1992 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Finnish Independence. The main entrance building, completed in 1997, is crescent-shaped and full of Finnish materials, including hard granite floors and chairs made from birch and reindeer hide.
Most spectacular of all is the Arctic Garden, which is also known as the ‘Gateway to the North’, a 172-meter long sculpture garden encased by over 1,000 panes of glass. From the outside, the structure appears to burrow into the ground, imitating the way the Lappish wildlife hides from the northern winter. It is regarded as one of the best places in Rovaniemi to watch the northern lights.
The city’s main cultural centre holds the Rovaniemi Art Museum, the Lapland Chamber Orchestra, and numerous other cultural events. The centre was previously a bus depot and is one of the few surviving post-war buildings in Rovaniemi. After the war, it was expanded using bricks picked up from the city’s ruined buildings. While the old structure doesn’t hold any significant architectural value, it is still somewhat of a monument to the old Rovaniemi that was destroyed in the war.
New additions were opened in 2010, designed by architect Juhani Pallasmaa to replicate the look of the older building but with a modern minimalist style reflecting the contemporary art held inside.
Even the regular residential buildings of Rovaniemi are something to see and brighten up even the most mundane areas of the city. The Korkalorinne residential area just off the town centre is particularly interesting as it was mostly designed by Alvar Aalto as part of his plans to rebuild Rovaniemi and are now highly sought-after properties. The butter-yellow apartment blocks are warm on a cold night and are surrounded by attractive parklands.
Unusual for Rovaniemi, and for all of Finland, Pilke is constructed almost entirely from wood, which is usually only reserved for summer cottages. This is highly fitting as the science centre is operated by the Finnish Administration of Forests (and also holds their offices) and focuses on Rovaniemi’s logging heritage and natural history. It is also highly reflective of Finland’s strong environmental stance. Ninety percent of the building’s materials, especially the nearly 20,000 planks of wood, were sourced from Finland to support ecological and sustainable construction. The structure only gives off one-third of the carbon emissions of a steel or concrete building of the same size, setting an example for future architects.
Sure, it may be touristy, but the buildings of the Santa Claus Village do have a rustic charm to them. Like a theme park, they are designed to temporarily take visitors out of the regular world and immerse them in a fantasy. The Elf Tower greets visitors with a sloped roof and a mural of Santa. The rest of the buildings, including Santa’s house and the post office, are made from natural stone and pine to resemble classic, Finnish log cabins. Nearby is the Snowman World resort, which builds ice igloos and even an ice restaurant each winter, with a new design every year.