Artificial Helsinki

18.06.2009 at 17:32 | Posted in Architecture, History, Industrial | 13 Comments
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Helsinki is indeed a very different city than it used to be and development is progressing rapidly. New construction sites are popping up and whole districts are being reorganised as areas around the centre convert from industrial zones to housing estates. But what was the shape of Helsinki’s core districts before the industrial expansion began?
From the map below you can see what was the original coast line, about a hundred years ago, in relation to the current, expanded shore (red shape). The west coast underwent the most dramatic changes with the west harbour and docks claiming a large portion of the coast line. So have areas around the Suvilahti power plant. Both are about to be transformed into expensive housing estates. The Katajanokka harbour has clearly generated some new land too and Töölönlahti has been shrinking significantly along the years. Notably part of what used to be a lake is now a large parking lot behind Finlandia Talo. (The comparison is approximate due to inconsistencies between the old and new maps.)

source of underlying map

Following a request from Hugo I created another overlay with a map of Helsingfors dating back to 1815 in which the visible changes are even more dramatic. Back then there was nothing developed on Katajanokka yet and no railways nor stations existed.
source of underlying map

Here’s a map from the Geological Survey of Finland that neatly shows the expansion of the shorelines along the years.
I received it from Johannes.

Here’s a map that Johannes created recently using all the gathered data.



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  1. Great!

    I’d been thinking of making something like this for a while.

    What’s the source for the old map?

    This 1815 map …

    … might be a bit less accurate, but shows for example a less built up Katajanokka as two islands. In your newer old map the smaller island has had the harbour railway depot built on top of it.

    And the 1815 map also shows an unbuilt Hakaniemi before it swallowed up the island of Siltasaari and the Pikkusilta bridge on its north shore.

    What else? Töölönlahti is less built up before the railway and it’s bridge were built.

    Or try this 1696 map …

    … of Töölönlahti stretching into Kluuvinlahti down all the way over where Aleksanterinkatu is today, hence those bronze strips.

    Here are some other maps: 1696, 1808, 1815, 1876, 1902.

    Any chance of overlaying any of them, perhaps the 1815? Thanks!

  2. Some more maps:

  3. Great sources, Hugo – thanks! Reminds me that I should’ve added the source of my underlying map. You can find it and other interesting maps from here:
    And yes, I’ll try overlaying another map. Perhaps the one from 1815 is indeed the most interesting.

  4. Darren Webb’s found a a list of Helsinki’s assimilated islands on Wikipedia.

  5. See also

    • Great overlay that one. The mainland seems to align better than mine. Still, the islands in the east just don’t want to match. I’d guess it’s because mapping islands was particularly difficult in the old days.

  6. Hey!
    I’ve just discovered your blog and I’m impressed!! I knew there where so many things still to see from Helsinki, but not THAT many! heh
    It’s been a good while since your last post, I hope you keep going and showing us more places to go : )

    It is so interesting!!! and you made me think of doing one of your trips or places to go/to see to make of my Sunday a diferent one.


  7. Thanks so much! Now I surely feel encouraged to post. :) Do expect some new stuff soon!

  8. Really feel so! We just came back from Vanhankaupunginkoski and I’m so happy to have found you! You know, Sundays are the best days to go around and see new things but sometimes I’m out of ideas… I cannot wait to try the russian-ukranian restaurant in Kallio and also the cafeterias!! ^^

  9. […] the help of Georges-Eugène Haussmann, but Helsinki changes. The change has been visible in the constantly altered coastlines. And the change has manifested in the recent years by the migration of industries and […]

  10. Very interesting post. I’d like to use your overlay map on my site, is that ok with you? I will of course credit the reference. I am discussing the history of planning Helsinki and the Jatkassari and Kalastama developments. I have part 1 posted and should have two more up by end of day tomorrow.

    • Sure, no problem. Don’t forget to share the link to your post when it’s ready.

  11. thanks for all the info guys, it;s very helpful!

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