Atlantic Cities

How High for Helsinki’s Skyline?

How High for Helsinki’s Skyline?
Flickr/Baturix

City officials in the Finnish capital of Helsinki are grappling over the future shape of the city. At issue is the skyline, which for years has been dominated by a relatively low and even roofline of short buildings. But developers have been working on plans for much taller buildings. Nearly 50 towers are in the planning and pre-development stages, some climbing up to 40 stories tall. But city leaders aren’t so sure they want these big towers coming to town.

According to a recent article from YLE, officials are considering a plan that would effectively ban all skyscrapers from the center city. The historic core of Helsinki has traditionally had a relatively low skyline, which is “one of the city’s strengths,” according to Helsinki City Planning Department head Tuomas Rajajärvi.

"High-rise construction is such a complex issue that I don't think the normal zoning procedures are sufficient," he says. "Rather, we need a citywide statement of principles."

His office proposes that the capital be divided into three zones with different approaches to high-rises. In Zone A, including the historic city centre and nearby areas, no more zoning approval would be given for buildings that significantly protrude from their surroundings.

Even in the areas surrounding the city center, high-rise buildings are rare. Most of the buildings in the city are under 20 stories. But a 33-story tower proposal seeking a zoning variance is causing city officials to think more carefully about just how high they want the city’s buildings to rise. Until now, Helsinki hasn’t taken a strong approach to planning where tall buildings should be located. Though no action has been taken on an outright ban on skyscrapers in the downtown core, planning officials are considering a plan that will give greater oversight to the location of new skyscrapers.

As this discussion begins, officials and residents will have to take up the issue of the city’s skyline. The historic character of the city has so far limited how much change has been allowed in terms of height, but this historic value will now be weighed against the desire or need for buildings that provide more space. How high the city is willing to go remains to be seen, but it will likely be decided within the next few months. As planners and officials lay down these official guidelines, they’ll have to choose whether the city’s skyline dramatically changes or keeps its same low profile.

Photo credit: Flickr/Baturix

Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for The Atlantic Cities. He lives in Los Angeles. All posts »

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