The Rock Church or Temppeliaukio, located in the heart of Helsinki, is one the world’s most revered pieces of architecture and is a favourite haunt for tourists and design aficionados alike.
Despite its mass appeal today, the building began its life in a series of fits and starts, with no small amount of opposition by members of the public who saw the avant-garde design as blasphemous. The citizens of Helsinki wanted a traditional cathedral instead.
Temppeliaukio, completed in 1969 is hewn straight into the bedrock below and can be entered from street level. The free-form, oval church hall bathes in daylight, which enters through the row of glass skylights between the rock wall and the dome. Reinforced concrete beams of different lengths support the dome, and the dome and gallery are lined with copper. The floor is polished concrete, and the pulpit is reinforced concrete, as is the base structure of the gallery. Water trickles from cracks in the rock and is conducted away along special ducts. An ice-age crevice in the rock serves as an altarpiece and the altar is of evenly sawn granite.
Temppeliaukio’s origins go back to 1906 when the rocky area in the suburb of Fredrikinkatu was reserved for a church in the first city plans. It wasn’t until 1932 that a design strategy for Temppeliaukio was instigated by holding an architectural competition, however the project ground to a halt as the overseeing committee were unhappy with the results. A second contest was held in 1936 but the project was terminated by the onset of the Winter War. In 1961 a third contest was carried out and was won by architect brothers, Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen.
The Suomalainen brothers also designed the interior of Temppeliaukio, whose colour scheme is inspired by shades of granite in red, mauve and grey. The benches are made of birch and the crucifix, candelabra and font were hand-forged by artist, Kauko Moisio. The textiles were designed by artist Tellervo Strömmer and the organ, built by Urkurakentamo Veikko Virtanen, was also designed by the architects. The building costs of the church, considered expensive at the time, were a moderate four million marks in the end.
The 750-seat church now regularly boasts full services and is a celebrated location for concerts due to its excellent acoustics. There is a split-level platform for the choir and floor space is reserved for an orchestra. Interestingly Temppeliaukio has no bells, rather recorded bell tunes composed by Professor Taneli Kuusisto chime through the speakers on the exterior stone wall.
In 2004 Temppeliaukio became a protected building.