The making of a design hotel: Clarion Hotel Helsinki

Scandinavian design defines the interior of the new tower hotel in Helsinki. Even the swimming pool is special – its floor lets you view all the way to the harbour.

Clarion Hotel Helsinki and Clarion Hotel Airport opened in October 2016. Clarion is the main partner of Helsinki Design Week. © CLARION

Scandinavian design defines the interior of the new tower hotel in Helsinki. Even the swimming pool is special – its floor lets you view all the way to the harbour.​

The 16-storey Clarion Hotel Helsinki is attached to the old low-rise warehouses stretched along the harbour floor.

“Like mother and son, they must respect each other and live side by side,” says developer Arthur Buchardt of his unique hotel project.

“Jätkäsaari is an important location in Helsinki, and the City was wise to think that people will come to both live and spend time there,” Buchardt says.

Opened just recently, Clarion Hotel Helsinki located in Jätkäsaari has stimulated discussion since the very first steps of the project.

Originally designed to rise 33 stories tall, Clarion did not cry about its building permit being rejected but changed the plan in order to kick off construction. The 16 stories that it now encompasses translate into a high-rise in Helsinki: on a clear day, you can see all the way to Tallinn from the top.

“The architecture and the facade of the hotel are really important for the city. They must respect the city, and the windows are part of this,” Buchardt says. The hotel’s design is the work of architects Aki Davidsson and Jaana Tarkela from Davidsson Tarkela Architects.

Interiors of Scandinavian and Finnish design

The hotel room windows span from floor to ceiling. Lying in bed facing the sea, one can imagine resting on water. The furniture features Danish pieces, and each room includes an Eames chair.

“I am responsible for the interiors. It is my design and my taste,” Buchardt says, smiling.

Buchardt says that the interiors turned out “perhaps too precious”. Yet he was willing to pay.

The hotel presents both Finnish and Scandinavian design embellished with Italian classics. Fascinating pixel paintings by Sami Lukkarinen on the walls catch the eye depicting famous Finns as well as some friends of the artist.

He estimates that 98 per cent of the interior consists of Scandinavian and Finnish design. All lighting fixtures have been designed by Philip Starck and Flos. Most of the furniture presents Finnish design, but there are a few Danish pieces. The restaurant features plenty of Artek. The designer-builder does not favor abundant details in his interiors.

“High quality and timelessness in design, furniture and art are important to me personally.”

He discussed the materials, colours and choices with interior designer Liisa Viljakainen of Davidsson Tarkela Architects.



As elegant as possible

For a hotel, its lobby is the key element. The architects and the developer both agreed on this – as well as on many other things. Clarion’s lobby rises up to seven metres and reveals a view to the city through a wall-to-ceiling glass wall.

“When the customer enters the hotel, the space appears as one layer. The purpose of the lobby is to let people catch their breath,” say architects Aki Davidsson and Jaana Tarkela. From a visitor’s point of view, the wow-effect comes from a very handsome view over the dock effectively waving in.

The towers of Clarion Hotel Helsinki rest on solid feet. The buildings look elegant, and the hotel is seamlessly united with an old warehouse designed by Lars Sonck that now functions as a convention centre.

“The hotel was built using a massing solution to make it look as elegant as possible. It was divided into two fairly light masses joined with glass. The towers stand on feet, which highlights them,”  the architects say.

“We used the best possible materials for the facade. Glass is a high-tech product these days, including a composite-aluminium surface attached to the wall elements. The material does not flare but appears completely exact. That is what creates the architecture,” Davidsson says.

Old warehouse building seals the deal 

According to the architects, the warehouse building enriches the compound and brings in “the juice”. It appears artlessly under the towers as the node between them.

“It was a fine, cold frame, and most of all very deep. Conventions fit into an abstruse building, and there is no need for a large amount of windows. We had no reason to touch the red-brick core. We added large openings to two plastered loading docks, and we were able to create fine windows for the restaurant and the lobby facing the sea,” Davidsson says.

Named an event venue for a thousand people, the Makasiini was a challenging design task, especially regarding its air conditioning. The question was, how to fit ventilation systems required by the Finnish building code into 4 500 m2?

“This is the heaviest ventilation system anyone can possibly build. We’re letting the building systems show, it was the only way. The columns are visible in the corners of the warehouse block, and we also brought back the block numbers of the warehouse.”


View all the way to the ground

Regarding the visitors, the story of Clarion as the new design hotel in Helsinki has just begun, but architects and builders have come a long way.

“We’ve been lucky. A valuable property was rescued to become the Makasiini part of the hotel,” says Davidsson.

Original dreams of a skyscraper do not seem to concern Buchardt anymore. The architects say that a taller tower would have interfered with the view “unexpectedly little”.

Located on top of the building, the Sky Room bar offers a view around Helsinki and makes you forget any higher expectations. The pool area is slightly extruded from the facade, and there is a view all the way to the ground because part of the swimming pool base is glass.

You don’t need to go further up to reach the sky.


What topics did you have on your agenda when designing Clarion Hotel Helsinki, architects Aki Davidsson and Jaana Tarkela?

The place. A building always interacts with its environment. The environment creates a framework for the design and impacts its overall mood.

Skandinavian cool. A stand-out among so many design hotels and positively distinctive.

Interaction and materials. An industrial building is rough. We refined it, and some of the roughness was transferred to the hotel. Concrete is a simple, authentic material that creates contrast, linking the buildings together.