The international architectural competition for the Ateneum museum and school building was held in 1883. The competition was won by a German architect, Arthur Walter, but the jury did not recommend his proposal for execution. Instead, in 1884, the Senate commissioned the Finnish architect Theodor Höijer to design the new house of art. Höijer was a well-known architect of commercial buildings.
The Ateneum building was inaugurated in 1887. In addition to the Art Society and its collections, the building also housed the society’s Drawing School (today the Academy of Fine Arts), the Finnish Association of Applied Arts (today the Design Museum) and its collections, as well as the School of Applied Arts (today the Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture). Since 1977, Ateneum has been used exclusively as a museum and exhibition space.
Höijer’s design for Ateneum is a good example of Finnish 1880s’ architecture. The brick building with an ornate plaster façade represents the Neo-Renaissance style. The interior space is dominated by the monumental main staircase in the core of the building.