Already in the 1940s there were plans to build a new type of studio theatre in connection with the art nouveau Finnish National Theatre. Public funding, however, could not be arranged at that time, nor during the next decade, since in the post-war period public funds were needed for many other purposes. Thus it was only in the early 1950s that general fundraising began for the construction of the theatre extension. Construction began in 1953 and the Small Stage was inaugurated the following year. The theatre extension was designed by architect couple Kaija and Heikki Siren. It was the first theatre to be built in Finland after the war. The completion of the Small Stage was a significant event also for theatre operations in general, because the National Theatre became the first theatre in the country to have two separate stages.
The Small Stage building is situated amidst older buildings and clearly stands out in terms of its form language. The rational minimalist extension is a reflection to the approach to infill building at that time. The location at the edge of Kaisaniemi Park provided the starting point for the design, and the park’s artificial pool was incorporated as an essential part of the composition. The building’s cubic form creates a terminal point for the park. Viewed from the direction of the park, it hides the old theatre building, with only the stage tower visible.
The main facade material is dark brown ceramic tile. The tone of the tiles varies, thus enlivening the facade surface. The intermediate areas between the windows and doors are white glazed panels. Kaija and Heikki Siren had also intended to use white spandrel glass for the columns of the arcade, but during the construction it was decided to use steel instead. The exterior doors and window frames are ash wood. The steel-framed canopy above the entrance, with its slender tension rods, is elegant and the only detail projecting out from the otherwise unassuming facade.The entrance hall, main staircase and upper foyer form a sequence of spaces that leads the audience to the auditorium. The focal point is the upper foyer, with its large window wall offering an extensive view over the park. Originally facilities for the theatre school were also included in the design for the building, and were to be located on two floors above the foyer.
A restaurant, the Theatre Grill, with seating for a hundred patrons together with a small dance floor, was placed immediately adjacent to the entrance lobby, a few steps below street level. The restaurant space was remodelled in 1976 to create the small Willensauna Stage. The change in use showed only slightly in the façade; the restaurant’s elegant name plaque was removed from the facade and the windows were covered on the inside with black panels.
Finnish National Theatre Small Stage is listed on the DOCOMOMO Finland registered selection of important architectural and environmental modernist sites.
Text: Leena Makkonen / DOCOMOMO Finland