Before Helsinki-Malmi Airport was built, Finland lagged much behind the rest of Europe, because civilian passengers only had at the option of air travel by seaplane, and only then during the summer season. Consequently, there was a pressing need in Finland to build a modern airport. There were similar intentions also elsewhere in the region; the Turku Artukainen airfield was in fact completed before Malmi, in the autumn of 1935. In Sweden, the Stockholm Bromma airport was opened in the summer of 1936. Air traffic began operating in Malmi in December 1936. From the very beginning, Helsinki-Malmi airport was planned as an international airport, one of the first in the world.
The first stage of the airport was the planning and construction of a hangar. The structure, consisting of reinforced concrete columns and steel trusses, enabled the construction of a large undivided space. The dimensioning of the hangar was determined by the measurements of the type of aircraft in use at the time, the Junkers Ju 52. The hangar, which is still in its original use, has remained unaltered, and is proof of the technical achievements of the time of its completion.
The main airport building was a completely new type of building, where it was easy to incorporate the modern principles of Functionalism. Curved and circular forms were much used themes at that time, but buildings in which the layout was based on a full-circle were quite rare. The tall central hall lit by skylights, which has been preserved almost in its original form, forms the heart of the building.
The main building’s outer appearance has changed a lot. In 1955 a radical façade repair was carried out on the circular part of the building. The original mineral render was removed and replaced by a five-centimetre-thick cladding consisting of cork and aluminium sheeting. The height of the two wings that extend from the circular part was raised in the late 1960s, when also the exterior walls of the ground floor were clad with silicate brick. The granite facing on the plinth was removed and replaced with concrete. Also the windows have been renewed.
The future of the airport operations is uncertain. In Helsinki’s new master plan the area is reserved for housing. The project has become highly controversial and, for example, Europa Nostra has designated the airport as one of Europe’s seven most endangered cultural heritage sites.
For now, however, the airport continues as a busy sports aviation centre, the lease for which extends until the end of 2019. The Helsinki-Malmi Airport is thus one of the few airports from the early days of aviation in Europe which is still in a use corresponding to its original.
Malmi Airport is listed on the DOCOMOMO Finland registered selection of important architectural and environmental modernist sites.
Text: Leena Makkonen / DOCOMOMO Finland