"All Roads Lead to the Lasipalatsi Building" - the first commercial premises
21.05.2007 13:57
In spite of its interim character, the building was designed and completed down to the last detail. The Bio Rex cinema and the restaurant in particular were turned into an impressive comprehensive work of art. The aim was to get a diversity of businesses operating in the building so that many tasks could be accomplished there within a short time: the combined advertisement of the Lasipalatsi businesses was entitled: "Everything Within Reach". This business idea turned out to be a success from the very beginning and the commercial site was one of the best in the city. The business facilities were decorated with the emphasis on expediency, simplicity, large display windows, hygiene and the systematic arrangement of goods for sale in the windows.

The Bio Rex Cinema

The Bio Rex cinema was opened in February 1936. The main door to the cinema is situated under an illuminated curved concrete awning and leads to an entrance hall containing the box office and a broad staircase leading up to the first floor foyer. The foyer, with its large windows, afforded access both to the cinema auditorium and to the restaurant and terrace. A spiral staircase also led up to the curved cinema gallery.

"Even an ordinary layman is delighted at the appearance and comfort of the cinema: its entrance hall has a high ceiling and is delightfully spacious and well-lit. A broad, well-appointed staircase leads to the hall itself, which welcomes the visitor with its beautiful colour scheme and peaceful ambience. "

Ordinary Helsinki residents read in their daily paper about the special guest opening night of the cinema. The invited guests were given a guided tour of the new cinema and treated to a programme including the music of Sibelius performed by the cinema orchestra. The event culminated in the premiere of the film "Mustia Ruusuja" [Black Roses], which was damned by the critics, while the new cinema, on the other hand, was greatly appreciated.

Although the Bio Rex was only the second largest cinema in Helsinki at the time of its opening, it was indisputably the most modern. All of the very latest technological advances were exploited: "The sound equipment of the cinema is based on the Western Electric Wide Range system", and with a view to favourable acoustics, the walls of the auditorium were cladded with Austrian Heraklith tiles made of wood-wool. This was a novelty for the 1930s and was valued for its fire-resistant, sound damping and thermal insulation qualities - and also because it repelled lice! Acoustic demands were still a relative novelty in cinemas, as talking pictures had arrived in Finland only in the early 1930s.

This "cinema of first class and partially brilliant design and construction " was blessed with "a uniquely modern ventilation system encompassing heating, humidifying and cooling equipment " in which "the air is cleaned four times an hour in machinery in the cellar of the building". The clean air was blown into the auditorium at the level of the ceiling lights and stale air was sucked out through ducts at the bottom of the seating stand. The ventilation room is located on the ground floor. The designs of the Stuttgart firm Lufttechnische GmbH were used in the planning of the Bio Rex ventilation system.

One of the high points for the new cinema undoubtedly occurred in 1938, when the prospect of getting the 1940 Olympic Games organised in Finland inspired the extension of an invitation to Leni Riefenstahl to visit the country. Riefenstahl's film of the 1936 Berlin Olympics "A Festival of Nations" was shown to the guest of honour at the Bio Rex. It is said that Riefenstahl was given a standing ovation, not merely during the presentation but also afterwards, and that the applause continued and followed her all the way out of the building and into the street. The second part of the film: "A Festival of Beauty" was likewise shown at the Bio Rex.

The Great HOK Restaurant and Cafeteria

Alongside the new cinema, the second great pièce de resistance in the Lasipalatsi Building was the restaurant, which was a product of collaboration between the same artistic designers and the architects. A glass-walled cafeteria was constructed in the ground floor entrance hall to the restaurant . The splendid interior decoration of the cafeteria with its golden pillars was a point in common with the main restaurant on the first floor. A broad staircase ran up to the restaurant with murals depicting an eagle scene.

The broad sweep of the restaurant traversed the building almost from end to end. At the northern end of the restaurant there was a rooftop terrace, and at the southern end a winter garden hall. The winter garden was compared to an oasis, a little piece of the tropics in the northern metropolis, with its hothouse plants and fountains. Both in terms of size and seating, the restaurant was the biggest in Finland with accommodation for 700 diners.

"The new Helsinki sight and wonder" was opened on 1.3.1936. Members of Parliament and City Council officials were invited to the opening ceremony. At the behest of Mayor Tulenheimo, there were three cheers for the Lasipalatsi Building. A coffee breakfast was served to musical accompaniment and the ceremony culminated with the showing of an animated comic film at the Bio Rex cinema.

In designing the interior, colour schemes and lighting of the restaurant, "every effort was made to create an overall impact which is peaceful, enjoyable and pleasant. "It seemed as though even the crockery was designed to match the darkened walls, colourful textiles and yellow light fittings." One journalist compared sitting by the long multi-windowed wall of the restaurant to being on an ocean liner. The busy traffic on the newly-opened main street ebbed and flowed beneath the windows like a broad ocean.

New technology enabled innovations both in the kitchen and in the ventilation system for the restaurant itself. "The kitchen will be electrified and it will be the biggest and most modern in the country." Using electricity in the kitchen was quite a new thing in those days. The advantages of electrical equipment over the open fire and gas ring were stressed: the equipment can be arranged in the kitchen in the best places for working without the need for chimneys, cooking temperatures can be regulated and the heat is evenly spread. Since an electric cooker does not overheat, the temperature of the kitchen does not rise and it does not steam up too much. In a week-long orientation phase the kitchen staff learned to operate the equipment - the round stoves and tipping frying pans, the saucepans and the refrigeration equipment which was the first of its kind to be used in Finland. A total of 160 staff worked in the restaurant.