Published in 3/2022 - Nature

Project Review

An Oasis Along the Rapids

Kristo Vesikansa

Photo: Pyry Kantonen Photography

The re-designed riverside of Tikkurilankoski in Vantaa intertwines the cultural landscape with  nature. 

Sea trout or history? The recent disputes over the restoration of rapids equipped with a dam have contrasted nature values with cultural values, in an unpleasant way. Which one should weigh more: the cultural landscape that is hundreds of years old, or the diversity of the ecosystem? 

The dam on the Vanhankaupunginkoski Rapids in Helsinki has been most widely discussed in the mainstream media. The impacts that would be caused by a demolition of the dam are currently being studied. However, you only need to travel ten kilometres upstream, along the banks of the Rivers Vantaanjoki and Keravanjoki, in order to become convinced that nature and cultural values can be integrated. When the centre-part of the dam on Tikkurilankoski Rapids – which was built in 1913 – was demolished three years ago, the water flowed freely again for the benefit of trout, thick-shelled river mussels, otters, other animals and people. At the same time, the banks of the rapids were refurbished for recreational use. The measures did not wipe away the long industrial history of the area, which is still present in the preserved dam walls and in the industrial buildings by the riverbank. The third temporal layer is formed by new bridges, walkways and areas for socialising, whose forms, materials and colours have drawn inspiration from river nature and the industrial heritage.

The restoration of the rapids and the refurbishment of the shores are part of a landscape design for the Tikkurila riverside. It is based on an entry by Loci Landscape Architects that won a landscape architecture competition in 2016. On this basis, Loci came up with a master plan the following year, which has been executed in a gradual manner since 2019.

Tikkurila Riverside
Loci Landscape Architecture / Milla Hakari, Veera Tolvanen, Annaleena Puska
Location Tikkurilantie 36–42, Vantaa
Gross Area 10 ha
Completion 2020– (Åvik playground 2020, Vernissaranta, Väritehtaanranta 2021, Vernissasilta bridge 2021)

More photos of the project →

The planning area is located on the banks of River Keravanjoki, on both sides of the main railway line. The industrial history of Tikkurila is very clear in the eastern part of the area. The Cultural Factory Vernissa, the former fire fighting equipment building and the furnace chimney on the northern side of the rapids are remnants of a linseed oil factory that began its operations in 1862. On the opposite shore, you will see the heir of the linseed oil factory, i.e. the former headquarters building of Tikkurila Ltd (Woldemar Baeckman 1960), research centre (Kaarina Löfström 1985) and production plants. An invitational competition on their renewal is ongoing. The objective is to create an urban district where housing, jobs and services would be mixed. If executed, the plan will, doubtlessly, also bring new users to the banks of River Keravanjoki. 

The western side of the main railway line is more park-like, but here, too, you can find signs of the industrial history, such as the Veininmylly Mill and the Silk Factory, which currently houses homes, offices and cultural activities. The southern riverbank is dominated by the geometric form of the Finnish Science Centre Heureka, designed by Mikko Heikkinen and Markku Komonen. The building, which was completed in 1989, does not yet have official protection status, but its architectural values have been taken into account in the landscape design.

In recent years, the centre of Tikkurila, on the northern side of River Keravanjoki, has been renewed vigorously. As a result, its scale has, in places, become almost metropolitan. According to landscape architect Milla Hakari, the purpose of the verdant riverside is to counterbalance the densifying centre. The atmosphere in the area is created by river nature and the cultural environment, and the new recreational use has been adapted to this framework. The river also links the different subareas to each other. 

Photo: Pyry Kantonen Photography

Since the landscape architecture competition, the goal has been to create an unbroken pedestrian route on both riverbanks. Currently, the routes are cut off by the main railway line, but the intention is to build steel walkways underneath it. According to Hakari, the different characters of the subareas stem from the river as well as from the buildings and their yards: on the western side of the railway line, the river current is slower, whereas on the banks of the rapids, strong currents and occasional floods must have been taken into account.

Milla Hakari says that the aim was also to create unity with the help of the appearance and elements of the landscape architecture. They have also been varied, depending on the characters of the subareas. For instance, on the banks of the rapids, materials that refer to the industrial history have been used, such as outdoor tiles and Corten steel, as well as reddish-brown colours. In the western part of the area, the design is more playful, drawing inspiration from river nature. The aim was to preserve as much of the existing vegetation as possible, particularly large trees and shore vegetation, and in new plantings, species suitable for river nature were favoured.

The Tikkurila riverside is an exceptional project in a sense that Loci has acted as a lead consultant in all subareas, coordinating the work of a dozen sub-consultants. Hakari says that thanks to this, the main idea has remained clear all the way from the competition entry to the execution. Good cooperation with the City of Vantaa has also contributed to the successful outcome. Hanna Keskinen, a park planning manager who was involved in starting the project, joined Ramboll Finland in 2018 but has continued to work as an external project manager. Keskinen finds it important for the end result that the concept was carefully thought through in the master planning phase. The concept has been adhered to in the design solutions and on the construction site.

Photo: Pyry Kantonen Photography

The master plan also included the refurbishment plans for the old buildings in the area. However, these projects have been delayed, which is why construction began in those subareas that could be implemented independently. A terraced playground and seating steps have been built on the northern riverbank in the Åvik area. There are platform-like spaces for socialising by the mouths of the stormwater pipes. According to Hakari, the aim was to make river nature visible by using the means of landscape architecture. For instance, the colourful mounds at the playground depict thick-shelled river mussels, and the irregularly arranged bars in the railings next to the seating areas remind of reedbeds.

The second implementation phase consisted of the shores of Tikkurilankoski Rapids. The stone blocks that were removed from the dam were measured and numbered, and the blocks that were of suitable sizes were utilised as stepping stones and seats. The picnic area on the sunny northern shore invites you to spend some time on the riverbank, and the brickwork tables merrily repeat the round shape of the furnace chimney. The most impressive new element on the riverside is the Vernissasilta bridge, which has been built next to the main railway line. Its sculpture-like structure binds the opposite riverbanks together. A place has been reserved for the second new pedestrian and bicycle bridge to the south of the Silk Factory.

Photo: Milla Hakari

The next subarea to be implemented is the surroundings of the Heureka bridge (Matti Ollila, Heikkinen-Komonen 1990), next to the main railway line. This subarea includes a small square designed in cooperation with the Finnish Science Centre Heureka, seating steps and an accessible route to the Tikkurila railway station. The execution of the designs that concern the southern side of the river is currently more unclear. The master plan proposed that the geometric stone garden of the science centre be replaced with a verdant science park with event areas, as well as with jetties on the river shore and a cove in the river for canoes. However, the City of Vantaa later decided to reserve part of the riverbank for a large sauna and restaurant building, the design of which continues on the basis of a proposal made by P&R Architects.

With the refurbishment, the Tikkurila riverside has become an oasis next to the rapidly developing city centre. From busy roads, you only need to take a few steps to listen to water ripples in the rapids, the quiet lapping of the water downstream, or the sounds of animals living in the river and on the shores. The key question for the future of the riverside is how much new elements and activities can still be accommodated in the area without breaking this illusion. ↙