Published in 1/2022 - Urban Space


A City That Is Growing towards the Sky

Text Tuomas MacGilleon Images Tapio Koivula

Traffic on the first two lines of Tampere light trail began in August 2021.

In recent years, large construction projects have brought changes to the cityscape of Tampere. On whose terms is new construction conducted?

In the city centre of Tampere, street renovations and the work carried out by cranes can be seen very clearly. 

On Hämeenkatu Street, the rumble of tires on cobblestones and the smell of exhaust fumes are only memories. The traffic is operated on the terms of pedestrians and new, shiny trams.

Looking south from the platforms of the railway station, you will see the tracks plunging beneath a huge deck. The scenery above the deck is dominated by two towers reaching towards the sky and an oval-shaped multipurpose arena.

When completed, the area envisaged by architect Daniel Libeskind will constitute a new city district on top of the railway and the tallest buildings will be almost one hundred metres high. In the future, the Travel and Service Centre project will bring more residential and commercial towers, as well as a new park area, to the surroundings of the railway station.

In the 2020s, Tampere will grow in every direction, also upwards. At the same time, the city, which is famous for its historical factory buildings, will, in part, begin to resemble a modern metropolis.

In the 2020s, Tampere will grow in every direction, also upwards.

JUKKA LINDFORS, Planning Director from the Urban Environment and Infrastructure Services, City of Tampere, is happy to see the changes that are taking place in the railway yard area. 

“When arriving from the direction of Helsinki, in particular, the silhouette of the city centre is impressive. In my view, the new kind of architecture aptly complements the historical cityscape”, Lindfors says.

Tampere boasts a huge number of construction projects, in the background of which there is a strategic objective: in 2030, Tampere wants to be a city of 300,000 residents. Housing and services will be needed for almost 60,000 new residents.

When pursuing growth, one must decide where to take space for new construction. A great deal has already been done. 

Parking space has been excavated underground, and the city centre has also been extended to the north, after the traffic of the highway along the shore of Lake Näsijärvi was moved to a tunnel which is more than two kilometres long. 

In addition to building on top of the railway yard, new city districts – such as Hiedanranta and Viinikanlahti – are being planned outside the epicentre.

The largest political disagreements in Tampere have sprung from traffic projects. The planning phases of the tramway and in particular, the Rantaväylä tunnel, resulted in heated discussion between the political parties governing the city. Eventually, the destiny of the Rantaväylä tunnel was decided by four Social Democrats in the City Council who supported the construction decision, against the wish of their party.

Despite these disagreements, the overall support for new investments in Tampere has been strong. In the City Council, a sufficient number of votes for mega projects have usually been given by the members of the National Coalition Party, as well as amongst the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Left Alliance.

Tampere Deck and Arena as seen from Ratapihankatu street. 

FROM THE PERSPECTIVE of a city official, according to Jukka Lindfors, urban planning is mostly about the coordination of divergent interests.

The developer focusses on efficiency and profit, the land use planner pays attention to the quality of the urban environment, and the authorities who supervise the built cultural environment have their own requirements. In addition, residents and other stakeholders have their own wishes.

“The more central a place is, the more interests and wishes there are related to the construction. Urban planning is really about seeking out the best compromise”, Lindfors explains.

Of the major Finnish construction companies, YIT, SRV and Skanska strongly participate in the projects which are changing the silhouette of Tampere. NCC – which built the Ratina Shopping Centre – also originally participated in the Deck and Arena project located on top of the railway yard. However, they pulled out of the project before the launch of the construction phase. SRV was selected as the new contractor and co-owner of the arena. 

Urban planning is really about seeking out the best compromise.

According to Lindfors, occasional arguments are unavoidable in urban planning. In private construction projects, disagreements are usually about whether projects are economically feasible.

“The preservation of buildings, the volume of building rights, as well as the volume of commercial facilities on the street-level floor are typical matters which must be negotiated during the land use planning process. People also have a great deal of opinions on facades.”

Skyscrapers will change the cityscape, and people also have divergent views on this.

Studio Libeskind and Aihio Architects: Tampere Deck and Arena, 2022. 

ARCHITECT HANNA LYYTINEN, who specialises in renovations, has a handsome view from the window of her study: a view towards Tammerkoski Rapids, a channel of rapids that runs through the city centre. On the other side of the rapids lies the Tako Board Mill, built from red brick.

Lyytinen states that the factory milieu along the rapids, as well as Hämeenkatu Street, have chiefly preserved the same scale and appearance that they had in the early 20th century. For Lyytinen, this is the identity of Tampere: the sacred axis that connects the lakes and eskers.

Lyytinen says that there is an ongoing change which affects the versatility and temporal layers of the cityscape.

“The city is densifying, and the scale of it is growing. Densifying growth is ecological, but, at the same time, it reduces the amount of natural light at the ground level, obstructs the views and changes the mutual hierarchies of buildings. At some point, there is a limit after which the growth no longer supports wellbeing”, she says. 

In Lyytinen’s view, many good things have also happened.

The tramway and the park routes along the banks of Tammerkoski make the city centre more agreeable. The construction projects in the railway yard do not require demolition of old buildings, and the new deck connects the eastern and western sides of the city to each other. The location is also perfect from a public transport perspective.

What Lyytinen is concerned about, is the relationship of the new buildings and the old city. The contrast between the scales of the new and old buildings is huge.

“In terms of identity, it is a leap to another world. I am also worried about the future locations of new skyscrapers. Silhouette changes are permanent, and the growth upwards should concentrate in other areas than the city centre.”

In Hanna Lyytinen’s opinion, the current scale of the grid-plan city centre should be retained.

“The new architecture in the city centre must strengthen the valuable features in its milieu instead of oppressing them.”

A city without authentic monuments is like a person without a memory.

TAMPERE IS densifying and becoming taller. In which locations, it is not yet known.

A report published in 2012 defined the railway yard area to be suitable for tall construction. Of the several areas for tall construction, the railway yard area is closest to the historical city centre. 

According to Jukka Lindfors, the report will be examined and if necessary, updated in the coming years. 

The City of Tampere is also preparing an architectural programme, the aim of which is to focus on the quality of architecture, sustainable development and urban culture.

Some infill development projects have been given up due to objections. During the 2010s, housing for 2,800 residents was planned for Eteläpuisto Park, which is located in the immediate vicinity of the city centre. 

This resulted in a social movement for the preservation of the park area, and after several judicial processes, the City of Tampere backed off of the original plan, although it could have been implemented, based on the decision of the Supreme Administrative Court.

The intention is to re-examine the land use planning for the Eteläpuisto area after the completion of the Viinikanlahti plan on the opposite shore of Lake Pyhäjärvi. The pressure for housing construction in the area has since decreased, and the current City Council favours the preservation of the recreational use of the area.

Building skyscrapers in a more extensive area than today is of course a tempting opportunity for construction companies. According to Jukka Lindfors, the historical city centre will, however, also receive careful attention in the future.

“The values of the built cultural environment are strong in the surroundings of Tammerkoski Rapids, in particular. It makes Tampere a distinctive city.”

Protection is important, but the buildings must adapt to the current time and remain in use.

The workplace of Jukka Lindfors is, so far, located by Keskustori Central Square, in the Frenckell building, which dates to the early 20th century. The former factory property has been sold to an investment company which plans to implement a hotel, spa and commercial facilities in the property.

There already are repurposed factory properties in Tampere, for example in the Finlayson and Tampella areas. According to Lindfors, success requires balancing between the protection values and economic realities.

“Protection is important, but the buildings must adapt to the current time and remain in use.”

Protection decisions are rarely straightforward. A recent example of this is a relocation of the former freight station owned by VR, the state-owned railway company.

At first, the City intended to demolish the former freight station, which is a protected Art Nouveau building along the railway line, as Ratapihankatu Street – which was planned to function as a city centre ring road – had to curve around the freight station. However, the demolition plans raised extensive objections.

The dispute was dealt with at different court instances for longer than a decade. Finally, three facades of the freight station were lifted from their foundations, moved 28 metres further away from the railway line and the street was straightened.

Hanna Lyytinen regards the outcome as a failure.

“A masonry building can only be preserved at its construction site. The facades of the freight station were torn from their foundations and moved to a new place which has no historical link to the building. Simultaneously, two old log buildings were demolished at their original locations.”

Helamaa & Heiskanen Architects: Technopolis Asemakeskus office building, 2020.

Protection always divides opinions. This was also the case in an event that took place more than 40 years ago and had a major effect on the development of the Act on the Protection of Buildings: in the late 1970s, the Verkatehdas broadcloth factory, which had become vacant, was demolished from the bank of Tammerkoski Rapids.

The outcome of the dispute that gained nationwide attention can still be seen from the window of Hanna Lyytinen’s study.

Lyytinen protested against the demolition, and together with other architecture students, she sold small bags of crushed bricks of the broadcloth factory on the street. Not everyone agreed.

“Particularly those who had worked at the broadcloth factory didn’t see the value of the factory buildings and thought that what is new must be better. At this time, too, there was an economic uptum, which, in my opinion, is the worst threat to building protection”, Lyytinen says.

In the 1980s, Koskikeskus Shopping Centre and the 19-storey Hotel Ilves were built on the site of the former Verkatehdas broadcloth factory. At the time, Hotel Ilves was an exceptionally tall building in the streetscape of Tampere.

“Hotel Ilves is still an open wound in the industrial cultural landscape of Tammerkoski Rapids. Architecture is a violent art, because there is no escaping from it.”

Later on, both legislation and public opinion have begun to support protection measures more strongly. Ecological objectives also promote the preservation and renovation of old buildings, instead of their demolition.

Lyytinen says that cherishing the historical cityscape requires contunous effort.

“The preservation of temporal versatility and layers requires will, regulation and protection. In my opinion, this must be done, as a city without authentic monuments is like a person without a memory.”

At the same time, it is clear that Tampere will continue growing and more skyscrapers will be built in the future. Where and how many of them – that remains to be seen. 

The whole picture is never visible until change has already taken place. ↙

Freelance journalist. Likes to observe developing cities and find out more about their past. For him, seeing beautiful architecture is always a moment of joy.