The Dance House Helsinki upgrades industrial heritage

Dance House Helsinki, by Finnish practices JKMM Architects and ILO architects, is a remodelling and extension project that aims to seamlessly merge the old and the new.

by Dhwani ShanghviPublished on : Dec 05, 2022

After the Second World War, under the guise of urban growth and development, both the built environment and natural elements were being destroyed, fostering the eradication of a shared cultural heritage and the dereliction of industrial values. The significance of this industrial heritage was first addressed in 1959 when the world’s first Committee for Industrial Archaeology was set up by the Council of British Archaeology. Following Great Britain's rapid growth in industrial archaeology, Europe established the Committee for the Conservation of the Industrial Heritage in 1978. Today a growing awareness of local identities and the concept of sustainability has cultivated an appreciation for the role of industrial heritage in the development of urban spaces in the future. The Dance House Helsinki project reclaims Helsinki’s 20th century (1940) cable factory and enhances the social significance of the collective identity it offers to the local community.

The re-modelling and extension of the Cable Factory | Dance House Helsinki | JKMM Architects, ILO architects| STIRworld
The re-modelling and extension of the Cable Factory Image: Courtesy of Hannu Rytky

After a period of abandonment in the 1990s — when it played host to an underground music scene, rave parties and occupation by artists, dancers, and designers — the former cable factory is now institutionalised as one of Finland’s largest cultural centres, accommodating museums, galleries, studios, art schools and artists’ residence. Designed by Helsinki-based JKMM Architects in collaboration with ILO architects, the Dance House Helsinki is a 7000 sqm remodelling and extension project that aims to seamlessly merge the old and the new.

Site Plan | Dance House Helsinki | JKMM Architects, ILO architects| STIRworld
Site Plan Image: Courtesy of JKMM Architects

An entrance square faces the street on the south side, and provides access to the interior, via a glass courtyard, which is the heart of the Cable Factory cultural centre. A glazed roof covers the courtyard space and serves as a multifunctional space with the old factory walls on either side. Acting like a covered street, this volume leads to the existing museums and showrooms from one side and the new Dance House on the other — two black-box dance theatre spaces — the Erkko Hall and the Pannu Hall of the original factory.

Ground Floor Plan | Dance House Helsinki | JKMM Architects, ILO architects| STIRworld
Ground Floor Plan Image: Courtesy of JKMM Architects

The Erkko Hall is the largest dance performance space in the Nordic countries, and is a flexible space that can accommodate up to 1000 people, while its auditorium, stage and side stage can also be separated to host three events simultaneously. Located on one side of the erstwhile machine room, the walls of this black cube can be lowered to merge with the smaller Pannu Hall. A wrap-around stage occupies almost as much space as the auditorium itself, allowing for an immersive experience for the audience.

  • The Glass Courtyard | Dance House Helsinki | JKMM Architects, ILO architects| STIRworld
    The Glass Courtyard Image: Courtesy of Peter Vuorenrinne
  • The Erkko Hall | Dance House Helsinki | JKMM Architects, ILO architects| STIRworld
    The Erkko Hall Image: Courtesy of Peter Vuorenrinne

The existing Pannu Hall is redesigned as a black box and can accommodate up to 400 people. Additionally, the ground floor includes a restaurant, and behind-the-scenes areas like performers' green rooms, a training studio, changing rooms and offices.

First Floor Plan| Dance House Helsinki | JKMM Architects, ILO architects| STIRworld
First Floor Plan Image: Courtesy of JKMM Architects

The primary volumes occupying the space on the floors above are also the two black-box halls, both triple volume spaces that are made up of a movable telescopic seating system. The basement accommodates an underground club and cloakroom and is reminiscent of a former sprawling bomb shelter built at the time of its construction.

Floating metal façades on the south and east| Dance House Helsinki | JKMM Architects, ILO architects| STIRworld
Floating metal façades on the south and east Image: Courtesy of Peter Vuorenrinne
The east and north façade | Dance House Helsinki | JKMM Architects, ILO architects| STIRworld
The east and north façade Image: Courtesy of Tuomas Uusheimo

Born out of the underlying principles of dance — instead of its aesthetics and form -— the elevations of the Dance House Helsinki emerge out of concepts like gravity, lightness, illusion and rhythm. Two adjoining facades of the building are made of 'floating' metal facade designs — rusted steel on the east, and stainless steel on the south — designed so in order to manifest the gravity-defying quality that is intrinsic to dance. Overlooking the entrance square, the latter serves as a monumental surface for reflections as well as a backdrop for events. The façade on the north faces the park and is a composition of circular aluminium discs in a chainmail pattern, that alludes to the rhythmic movement in dance.

East Elevation | Dance House Helsinki | JKMM Architects, ILO architects| STIRworld
East Elevation Image: Courtesy of JKMM Architects

The Dance House Helsinki retains an industrial quality through its interior design that is subservient to the performances it will host. A frugal material palette of concrete, steel, and glass; an industrial scale; elements like concrete hoppers and gantries, contribute towards reaffirming its industrial context and aesthetic. Exposed concrete work that reveals the formwork, typical of the Brutalist concept, and the new steel support system merges seamlessly with the bruised walls, graffitied doors, and leftover machine parts. In this respect, the exterior is a restrained effort at displaying the industrial past that it so arrogantly exhibits in the interior. 

  • Bruised walls of the original structure| Dance House Helsinki | JKMM Architects, ILO architects| STIRworld
    Bruised walls of the original structure Image: Courtesy of Pauliina Salonen
  • New concrete work reveals the formwork | Dance House Helsinki | JKMM Architects, ILO architects| STIRworld
    New concrete work reveals the formwork Image: Courtesy of Hannu Rytky
  • Concrete hoppers are suspended from the ceiling like inverted pyramids | Dance House Helsinki | JKMM Architects, ILO architects| STIRworld
    Concrete hoppers are suspended from the ceiling like inverted pyramids Image: Courtesy of Hannu Rytky

The post-postmodern society is now raising questions on matters of globalisation, digitisation, climate change, social binaries etc, and the role of architecture in deterring these processes. In this context, an architecture that omits or minimises the building process, and simultaneously displays a historical significance through the conservation of industrial heritage emerges as one of the answers.

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