The location of Finlandia Hall is based on Aalto’s Plan for Helsinki City Centre dating from 1962. As well as Helsinki, cultural and administrative centres were being designed for three other Finnish cities, Seinäjoki (1950s onwards), Rovaniemi (1963 onwards) and Jyväskylä (1970 onwards), at roughly the same time. Of these, the Seinäjoki centre was the only one to be implemented in its entirety. A number of city centres abroad were also on the drawing board in Aalto’s office, but none of these were built.
In 1959, the Helsinki City Board commissioned Aalto to design a central area plan for the Kamppi-Töölönlahti (Töölö Bay) area. Aalto took the view that the Kämppi area should be included as, in his opinion, it was essential for a functional city centre to have a commercial quarter. Attention also had to be paid to traffic and car parking issues as well as the urban fabric.
The period when the design was being carried out coincided with a steep increase in the numbers of cars and other motor vehicles on the roads and this can be seen in the basic solution to the problem, drawn up by Aalto. The Plan for Helsinki City Centre was considerably larger in scale than plans for other Finnish cities. As it concerned the capital, the Helsinki plan was also of greater importance to Aalto.
In the design, the main traffic artery coming into Helsinki was located along the existing railway line, with cars driving along an elevated roadway above the tracks. From the highway, there would be views over Töölönlahti to a row of cultural buildings whose facades would be reflected in the water.
Of this row of cultural buildings along the shores of Töölönlahti, Finlandia Hall was the only one to be built. A vast square was planned to the south of Töölönlahti, with shops and space for parking to meet the demands of the increasing traffic, located underneath. In the plan, Finlandia Hall was sited in the row of cultural buildings at the junction of Hesperian puisto (Hesperia Park) and the square, thus being the cultural building nearest the city centre.
Aalto compared the white cultural buildings reflected in the water to Venetian palaces. Grouping the cultural buildings together as a single unit would emphasise Helsinki’s character as Finland’s capital. These views of Helsinki would be seen by everyone coming into the city, so that the right location of the buildings with the water in front and the green park behind was of paramount importance.
The City Council approved Aalto’s proposal as the basis for further development in 1966, though it had already been approved in principal in 1961. In the end, however, only a small part of the design was built. Finlandia Hall was designed and built during the periods 1967–71 and 1973–75. According to the Central Area Plan, the main elevation of Finlandia Hall faces onto Töölönlahti and the proposed incoming traffic highway. The fact that the Central Area Plan was not implemented left the Finlandia Hall surroundings incomplete on the Töölönlahti side. It is often said that, to the very end, Alvar Aalto remained disappointed that the Helsinki Central Area Plan was never implemented as a continuation of Finlandia Hall