In 1910, the Lahti town council announced an invited competition for the building of a town hall. The town administration, police station, prison and fire station were to be housed under the same roof. According to the competition brief, the site for the building was on a high ridge. Eliel Saarinen won the competition. In his proposal, the vertical lines of the façades of the town hall and the dominant tower emphasise the dramatic location of the building at the end of Mariankatu street. The brief dictated rendered façades, but Saarinen succeeded in persuading the council to use brick. The central European tradition of building in brick was at the time strongly influential in Scandinavia. Worth mentioning as an example is Ragnar Ostberg’s city hall for Stockholm, 1904-1923. Saarinen took into account possible additions to Lahti town hall by leaving the courtyard open on one side. The architect Kaarlo Könönen, who worked in his office, closed it in a sensitive manner in 1934. The tower and the articulation of the extended building mass around the courtyards are characteristic features of Saarinen’s architecture in public building commissions in which the building is to be set in an existing urban structure. The restrained design is, however, appropriate: at the time Lahti was a small town of fewer than 5,000 inhabitants.
Text: Juhana Lahti / 20th Century Architecture, MFA