In 1904, Eliel Saarinen won the architectural competition to design Helsinki’s central railway station. Saarinen’s national-romantic entry caused a huge emotional uproar among Finnish architects. Some of Saarinen colleagues considered his proposal backward-looking and insisted that as the railway station symbolised a new, modern era, the architecture should do the same.
The critique and a study trip to continental Europe convinced Saarinen to modify his design considerably. He replaced his national-romantic bear statues with Emil Wickström’s stone statues and his various picturesque towers with more rationalist motifs and design language. Construction of the building was delayed, mainly by the First World War, and this had an influence on the final appearance of the building.
The Central Railway Station and its administrative buildings are among Eliel Saarinen’s most important achievements in Finland. The station was finally completed in 1919. A few years later, after winning the second prize in the competition to design the Chicago Tribune skyscraper, Eliel Saarinen moved permanently to the United States. In 2013, the BBC listed Saarinen’s railway station among the ten most beautiful railway stations in the world.
In 1994 Esa Piiroinen won the architectural competition held for covering the platform area. The steel-structured glass roofing was completed in 2001.