Viipuri Art Museum and Art School
The offices for the agency established in 1889 by commercial counsellor Wilhelm Bensow (1864-1949), were completed in the autumn of 1940. Bensow’s co-developer was the Bensow Orphanage Foundation which he himself had founded together with his wife, Sigrid. The plans had been completed well before the war began, but the construction process over the following years was delayed due to the numerous difficulties caused by the war.
The long and narrow plot located next to Erottaja Square posed challenges in terms of lighting and a logical floor plan. Ullberg resolved the issue by placing narrow four-storey building frames along the long sides of the plot, and joining two wider wings across the plot, thus creating an interesting spatial sequence with inner courtyards. The offices receive natural light via the courtyards. In the ceiling of the portico leading to the street-side courtyard containing shops is a decorative motif made from blue glass tiles in the shape of bottle bottoms. In the middle of the portico is a ramp leading down into the basement, which makes the entry into the courtyard less inviting. A large triangular piazza demarcated by the outline of the building is created along Eteläesplanadi, which is overlooked by the two-storey restaurant.
The characters of the street and courtyard sides are rather different. The simple courtyard facades are rendered and painted white. By contrast, the street facade is clad in three-centimetre-thick greenish-grey sawn soapstone tiles, while the pillars of the shop level are clad in polished granite. In this sense, Bensow House was in its time a pioneer, because façade structures clad with tiles only became common in the 1940s. The neon-light advertising, an integral part of a modernist building, was designed so that it could be easily changed without damaging the facade tiles. In the design of the offices, the architect applied the modern principle of flexibility; the rooms in a building based on the structural principle of pillars can be combined and divided as necessary.
Vertical circulation occurs via three spiral staircases. The staircases receive natural light via the glass-tiled dome on the roof. The main staircase of the eight-storey street-side wing is particularly impressive due to its details and colours. The interior of the building possesses a decorativeness and romantic spirit characteristic of its time.
Bensow House is listed on the DOCOMOMO Finland registered selection of important architectural and environmental modernist sites.
Text: Leena Makkonen / DOCOMOMO Finland