With the recent completion of the final stations of the western metro extension, Länsimetro, the Helsinki metro now also runs through Espoo. When one part of a system like the metro undergoes change, the entire system simultaneously changes, muses Tommy Lindgren. He visited all the stations west of Lauttasaari.
The opening of the stations to passengers in the second phase of the Länsimetro on December 3, 2022, brought to a conclusion one chapter in the extension of the metro network in the capital region. The extension of the metro line from Ruoholahti via Lauttasaari and Koivusaari to Espoo, which had been planned for decades, was already implemented in 2017, when the first eight stops were completed amid public indignation over the schedule and costs. The opening of the final five stations of the western line, on the other hand, was marked by positive news about it being completed faster than had been planned.
Philosopher Bruno Latour has stated that technology is society made durable – in regard to infrastructure and the built city, social objectives are set as more durable structures than words. Rail transport projects are amongst the most significant material images of our common objectives, and this is clearly visible in the metro’s western expansion. We can see the ideals of a compact, neo-urban city both in the development of Otaniemi into a versatile city district, in the densification of Tapiola, and in the planning of dense block clusters around the new metro station areas – and we can consider the metro as the catalyst for this change.
The architecture of the Länsimetro stations is twofold. On the outside, the stations resemble pavilions or, alternately, the entrance is integrated into other buildings, often a shopping centre. The most successful stations have through their exterior architecture established a relationship with the surrounding city, by relating to the site’s characteristic scale, as in Keilaniemi, or bringing interesting new forms to the urban structure, as in Soukka. Modestly sized metro entrance buildings are unable to credibly support a large number of design themes and references, as has been attempted in Koivusaari; instead, they are at their best when operating within a disciplined framework of clear surfaces and form languages.
Spatially, however, the stations grow larger than their visible external envelope. The metro experience is defined by the station platforms, with their branching connections leading up towards the ground level. The platform areas follow a uniform model, differing from each other mostly only in their colour and materials and by means of artworks. The platform areas that best take advantage of the special features of the underground location, enhanced by artworks and lighting – such as the stations of Espoonlahti, Soukka and Keilaniemi – offer passengers interesting experiences and unique spaces. The ascent to the ground level differs between the stations, both in terms of the length and nature of the exit routes. In the stations at Aalto University and Urheilupuisto, the natural light and views opening towards the escalators are particularly memorable, bringing a sense of refinement to an otherwise everyday moment.
Whenever one part of a system such as the metro undergoes change, for example by the addition of a new branch, the entire system also simultaneously changes. The essence of the metro’s character is indeed systemic, and not so much tied to the stations’ architecture. Each new station qualitatively changes the entire system – we can travel to a new destination, which at the same time is connected to the system formed by the existing stations. Urban development around the new stations is just one way of seeing the effects of the metro on the city.
The first and second phases of the Länsimetro link the entire Greater Helsinki area, within a new arrangement. While it radically improves the accessibility of the various places, our experience of the spaces and functions of the city also changes. Crossing the border from Helsinki to Espoo has become even more imperceptible: the two largest universities in the Helsinki region have been connected by a thirteen-minute underground link and, for example, the bird watching towers of Suomenoja and Laajalahti are only a few minutes and steps away from each other. The metro opens up a view of a city that can be understood with the help of journey times, which is something more diverse and richer than simplifications such as the ”fifteen-minute city”.
Helin & Co
On the station platform, a cluster of lamps with varying and changing light intensities creates an inviting and vivid ceiling ambience. As one ascends the escalator to the ground level, the grey surfaces that dominate the space change to green and blue glass. The curved forms of the entrance building are inspired by maritime themes. A second entrance is integrated into the Lauttis shopping centre (Cederqvist & Jäntti 2017).
Helin & Co
Many different elements on the station platform vie for the passengers’ attention: the undulating plates on the upper part of the platform walls, the technical units covered with metal grilles rising up from the floor, and the cylindrical lamps protruding from the ceiling. Also, in ascending the escalator to the ground level, passengers encounter a combination of different materials and shapes, from natural stone to patterned glass depicting sea spray. The station’s only entrance so far has its own building, with undulating shapes repeated in numerous details: the curved roof surfaces can be considered a reference to wooden boats. The location of the building next to the shoreline mediates between the maritime and subterranean worlds.
ALA Architects, Esa Piironen
On the station platform, the composition of the light artwork comprised of LED tube lights almost fades out the dark ceiling ambience to create an empty void. The impression of depth is reinforced by the white panels bordering the artwork. In ascending to the ground level, the colours of the back-painted glass panels transition from white to blue. The architecture of the entrance building in glass and Corten steel is distinct and angular. Together with the pavilions at Keilaniementori plaza (SARC 2020), the entrances form a streamlined human-scale environment surrounded by office-building colossuses.
ALA Architects, Esa Piironen
The grey concrete surfaces of the platform area are contrasted by a gently-sloping folded ceiling made of Corten steel cassettes, which guides the passengers’ ascent to the ground level. On the intermediate level of the main entrance, the concrete wall with its visible shuttering marks continues upwards as a slanted structural glass wall, opening up a view of the sky for those ascending the escalators, and letting natural light down onto the platform. The main entrance is integrated into Aalto University’s Väre building (Verstas 2018), and the second entrance has its own elegant glass and Corten-steel clad building.
The metro station is an integral part of the recent redevelopment involving the urban densification of the centre of Tapiola. The station, situated deep underground, connects to the bus terminal and the Tapiola centre’s large complex of urban blocks consisting of hybrid buildings. The backdrop of the station platform is light-coloured shotcrete, bordered by glass panels on the upper section of the platform walls, and a series of large acoustic domes in the ceiling. The space is divided by three infrastructure columns and a large sculpture of a young girl (Kim Simonsson 2017). The ascent up from the platform level is framed by light-coloured back-painted glass, polished terrazzo and a metal-grille ceiling. The entrances are integrated into the Ainoa shopping centre (SARC 2019).
A black-and-white texture, made up of rhombus-like forms repeated in different ways, acts as a ”wallpaper” in the platform area, but the main character of the space is provided by the row of eleven stout columns – tangible proof of the station’s location deep underground. The long ascent is marked by the oblique window at the end of the escalator, which actually is the glazed outer wall of the entrance building. The building itself is a technical service pavilion clad in white perforated metal and crowned by a cubic structure clad in colourful metal cassettes, angled with the same inclination of the escalators towards the sky.
Espoo’s tallest residential building, Niittyhuippu (SARC 2017), marks the position of the metro station within the larger landscape, and tells about the connection between efficient public transport and large-scale construction. The station’s platform area is roofed by dark uneven shotcrete and five austere, dark-grey acoustic panels. Colourful perforated sheets form patterns that mirror each other on either side of the platform area, reaching for a memorable look for the otherwise unvarying surroundings. The ascent upwards is again surrounded by a whole range of materials, from a slatted metal ceiling to a piece of quarried rock wall. The entrances are integrated into the Niitty shopping centre (SARC 2017).
The station platforms are roofed by an envelope made of light-coloured perforated metal, where optical vibrancy is combined with the lightweight feel of a theatrical backdrop. The theatrical effect continues as one ascends from the platform level, where the nuanced glass and reflective surfaces create an immersive colour ambience. When ascending to the ground level, the surface materials change to stone slabs, and smooth, white ceilings, with the usual pursuit of uniqueness by means of striped tiled walls. The entrances are integrated into the Iso Omena shopping centre (extension, HKP and Parviainen 2017) and a hotel block.
The cool-toned, wavy sheet metal on the side of the station platform faces graphic panels depicting plants and animals. On the way up to the ground level, warm grey concrete walls and aluminium mesh cover black shotcrete. The massing of the entrance buildings appears to follow the prerequisites set by the technical requirements, but the stripes on the surface of the glass facades nevertheless give them a recognisable look. There is an abundance of empty space surrounding the station buildings, but a frontage of new buildings appears to be drawing closer – with the landscape dotted with building cranes.
A bi-coloured artwork resembling cracked ice or tree roots frames the platform space, while light grey concrete and aluminium mesh frame the ascent up to the ground level. The detailing of the entrance building is pronouncedly high-tech in appearance, both inside and outside – the polyhedron-like structure is adorned by a streamlined aluminium mesh veil. The piece of high-tech architecture with an air of the last century, situated in a suburb of serenely static apartment blocks, becomes something special through the stark contrast, while its strangeness tells of the arrival of a new age.
An undulating light artwork surrounded by dark tones dominates the platform area. The walls of the lift hall, made of folded metal cassettes, offer an artist’s interpretation of a rock cutting, and the illuminated ceiling the illusion of natural light. A two-storey entrance building connects the bus stops and the Soukantori plaza level. The nuanced polygonal building forms a distinctive addition to the otherwise concrete-grey environment of the Soukantori plaza. On Yläkartanontie side, the escalators lead to an entrance building that is more grandiose in terms of space, but more conventional in its one-storey design.
The intense blue shotcrete surface serves as the backdrop to the station platform, and it is bordered by shiny metal cassettes resembling a hammered surface. The concrete ceiling is enlivened by a subtle, flickering light artwork accompanied by a humming soundtrack – the multisensory installation brings a surprising, playful interruption to the journey. The colour scheme is reminiscent of some of the older stations in the east part of the metro line. The entrances are integrated into the Lippulaiva commercial centre (Arco 2022).
A glimpse of natural light has been brought down to the deep-lying platforms via the spacious escalator hall. The ceiling of the hall is comprised of bright white perforated metal cassettes that extend out to the exterior as part of a bevelled awning structure. The station building and its only entrance currently in use are embedded into sloping ground. The station is also a harbinger of future change in Kivenlahti, as it awaits the construction of a massive new metro centre. ↙
Architect. Works as a lecturer in urban design at Aalto University and enjoys teaching, architecture and cities.