Recognized in the Architectural Design - Cultural Architecture category

The Helsinki Biennial Pavilion designed by Verstas Architects, located at the South Harbor of Helsinki in Finland, has received the Architecture MasterPrize™ (AMP) honoring international designs in various disciplines of architecture. Each submitted design in the competition was evaluated by an esteemed AMP Jury. In 2021, the pavilion served as the entry point to the Helsinki Biennial art festival, which took place on Vallisaari island. The ferry to Vallisaari departs from a pier adjoining the pavilion, and the Helsinki Biennial Pavilion will once again serve art festival visitors next summer during the second biennial.


The Helsinki Biennial Pavilion, view from south
Photo credit: Pyry Kantonen

The goal of Verstas Architects´ design was to create a free, open space for everyone. As a collective space, the pavilion unites people for social interaction and small, temporary events, while also providing shelter and a serene respite from the bustling city. Accessible all year round, the pavilion provides a public open-air urban living room space where one can pause and enjoy the presence of the sea in the heart of the city.

The distinctive ponds of Vallisaari island, created by natural rocks, are unique. The ponds were formed during the ice age when the circular motion of the rocks carved bays on the cliffs when the ice melted. This round movement of rocks has created exiting forms that are the size of pond. These elements were our inspiration when designing the pavilion. Our aim was to bring a piece of the archipelago´s nature to the harbor.

The principal designer of the pavilion, Jussi Palva


The Helsinki Biennial Pavilion, the main entrance
Photo credit: Pyry Kantonen


The Helsinki Biennial Pavilion, the yard and outdoor auditorium
Photo credit: Tuomas Uusheimo


The Helsinki Biennial Pavilion, the interior
Photo credit: Pyry Kantonen


The Helsinki Biennial Pavilion, the outdoor auditorium
Photo credit: Pyry Kantonen

The pavilion is made of wood, a material traditionally used for buildings and boats in the archipelago. As a locally available material with a capacity to store carbon, wood is ecologically sustainable and long lasting in the northern climate.


Photo credit: Pyry Kantonen


The Helsinki Biennial Pavilion, the yard
Photo credit: Pyry Kantonen

The fabrication process of the pavilion was guided by a digital 3D building model and was documented on video. Built in a carpenter’s workshop in a small harbor town, the prefabricated modules for the pavilion were shipped by sea and loaded directly onto the site for installation. At first, the intention was to have the pavilion dismantled after each Biennial. This prompted the decision to make the pavilion with prefabricated wooden elements that can easily be moved around by ship. However, it was quickly realized that the pavilion has a much bigger role to play if left to stand in place all year round.


Building the pavilion in a carpenter’s workshop
Photo credit: Pyry Kantonen


The prefabricated modules of the pavilion
Photo credit: Pyry Kantonen


Aerial view of the Helsinki Biennial Pavilion
Photo credit: Pyry Kantonen

The Helsinki Biennial on Vallisaari island is part of the city’s strategy to make the archipelago more accessible, and the pavilion was designed to provide an anchor point for the event in the city. It is a temporary building permitted to remain in place until 2024. The designers of the pavilion, Verstas Architects, are known for buildings such as the new Aalto University campus and Saunalahti School in Espoo Finland. Vuosaari High School by Verstas Architects, Helsinki´s most multilingual high school, also received an honorable mention by the 2022 Architecture MasterPrize™ (AMP) awards.


20201028 VERSTAS ARKKITEHDIT, Kauppatorin paviljonki, Helsinki


Transporting the prefabricated modules of the pavilion
Photo credit: Pyry Kantonen

About Verstas Architects

Founded in 2004 in Helsinki by Väinö Nikkilä, Jussi Palva, Riina Palva, and Ilkka Salminen, Verstas Architects is an award-winning architectural practice in Helsinki, Finland. Numerous competition wins and acclaimed buildings have established Verstas as one of Finland´s leading architectural firms. Based on their human-centered design philosophy, the most sustainable approach to architecture is that designs stand the test of time. The company consists of 45 architects, urban designers, interior and landscape architects. The name Verstas (meaning workshop) describes their design methodology, which entails close-knit work between clients and the project team.