The first three commissions appointed to Engel included two large barrack complexes, now called Naval Barracks and Kaarti Barracks. The former provided accommodation for the Russian troops, which made it the most urgent project the emperor advanced in the new capital.

The first part of this complex was completed already in 1819, a four-storey barracks spanning the northern edge of a square-shaped courtyard, a remaining feature from a past fortress. At the time of completion, the new barracks stood tall in the rough surroundings and attracted admiration for its size and strong classical expression. Unlike the Government Palace with its refined relief decorated facade reflecting a sophisticated regime, the barracks is a representation of masculine strength and discipline.

The building arrangement was further extended with small kitchen annexes and pavilion-like officer wings, however, only the western wing was completed according to Engel’s plan. In the 1830s, a military hospital was built on the southern edge of the courtyard. The barracks evolved with the changes in military tradition and during the decades the courtyard was partially covered with hangars, storehouses and workshops.

In the 1970s the area was facing a big change: the military use came to an end and the ship wharf next to the barracks had grown too big for the eastern tip of Katajanokka. An architectural competition for the new town plan of the area was won by architects Vilhelm Helander, Pekka Pakkala and Mikael Sundman with an entry built on historical knowledge. In the new plan, verified in 1977, the barracks area was to be restored according to Engel’s original design with a grand square-shaped courtyard and buildings flanking it on all sides.

The design of the vast building project was carried out by architect Erik Kråkström. The oldest barracks buildings were repaired and the newer buildings were demolished. The western officer wing, which had never been realised, was now built as a replica, out of concrete. Two modern office buildings were built on the east and west sides of the courtyard. The additions are a rare exception in Finnish architecture as they imitate the historic flair of their surroundings.

text: Kati Winterhalter


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View from the north, Merikasarmi Naval Barracks
View from the north, Merikasarmi Naval Barracks (© Galjamin / Helsinki City Museum)
1860s-70s, Merikasarmi Naval Barracks
1860s-70s, Merikasarmi Naval Barracks (© Hårdh / Helsinki City Museum)
Northwest facade of the main building in 1976, Merikasarmi Naval Barracks
Northwest facade of the main building in 1976, Merikasarmi Naval Barracks (© Roos / Helsinki City Museum)