President’s Medals 2013: Helsinki Archipelago

The President’s Medals have been rewarding the best student ideas and drawings since 1836. This year those projects spanned from the archaeology of the future to the social effect of a socialist city and a civic centre for an island community, with intelligent design development and many beautiful drawings along the way. Of 81 schools that entered, this year saw one, the Bartlett, sweep the board with the excellence of its students’ submissions.

Bronze medal winner

Helsinki Archipelago Town Hall

Ness Lafoy

Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL
Tutors: Rhys Cannon, Ben Addy


Long section through islanders club house and sorting office.
Long section through islanders club house and sorting office.

The archipelago around Helsinki is dotted with tiny pine-covered islands, many inhabited by just one or two households. Altogether, the 455 islands are home to over 50,000 people. 

Most of the inhabitants live without transport links to the mainland, telephone lines or internet connection, so there has been an influx back to the mainland in recent years. The Helsinki Archipelago Town Hall would be a mainland hub for islanders, a warm clubhouse with accommodation for overnight trips to the capital. It also aims to improve connections between mainland and archipelago by introducing a postal service to remote outposts and providing a place for the Island Council to meet so that they can begin to improve transport links and promote the islands to ensure they are not forgotten. 

The double-height, warm, communal space created by a Tupa – a central space in the traditional Finnish farm house – and the fractured landscape around Helsinki are driving forces in the design of the Archipelago Town Hall. The main clubhouse and sorting office building sits on the harbour’s edge and platforms extend into the bay, providing additional public space in the harbour. These platforms can be used for cultural and political events run by the Island Council and the City of Helsinki. Floating accommodation units are positioned around the platforms and accessed via floating pontoons. At the furthest point lies the Council Chamber, which looks out to the mouth of the harbour and the Archipelago.