The building incorporates not one but two museums – the Maritime Museum of Finland, and also the Museum of Kymenlaakso, which examines the history of the district in which the museum sits - as well as an information centre and some conference facilities. Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Architects won the competition to design the building with a project that makes specific reference to both the beauty and the power of the sea – the appointment came just after the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004. At the same time there is a strong functional aspect to the form, with the greatest height encompassing the boat hall. The bulk of the building – it is 300m long – makes it clearly visible from elsewhere in the town, a deliberate policy to attract and orientate visitors. But once people have become accustomed to the sheer size of the structure, two other factors start to dominate. One is the cladding, which uses prepainted metal in eight different colours to create an interpretation of two images from within the museum – one of the crew members of a ship called the ‘Favelli’ and the other of masts. The other factor is a ‘platform’ on top of the building, which provides a magnificent view point – if you are building high, you should take advantage of that fact.

The Maritime Centre is not a pretty, delicate building. Instead it is a tough one, for a tough environment, sitting comfortably among the retained dockside cranes, and using an industrial language, although th edelicacy and deliberation of the cladding makes it clear that it is intended for a nonindustrial use.

The main structure of the building is of reinforced concrete columns and beams, but there is an exterior structure of lightweight steel framing to support the cladding. This cladding consists of prepainted steel cassettes, each measuring 50mm by 200mm and set into an aluminium lattice. The architect specified eight different colours to be used on the cassettes, which create the coarse grain of the decorative finish. The finer grain then comes from silk-screened glass panels that sit in front of some of the cassettes, carrying the final details. The effect is in some ways like a stained glass window, where the overall structure of the image comes from the coloured glass, with detail painted on top. The difference here is that coarse and fine detail occur in two different planes, and that the surface reflects rather than transmitting light. Whereas the palette of much stained glass is in rich reds and blues and yellows, at Kotka the range of colours reflects those that one could find in the sea, from the bright clear tones of a sunny day, to the deeper more brooding colours of a storm.

A ramp leads up the sloping roof of the building, to the ‘stage’, a lookout that offers views of both the port and the city. The ramp, effectively ceiling panels that have been reversed, and the enclosing cladding of the seating area are in white, with the back of the wall of dyed conrcete and aluminium panels. Not surprisingly, this dramatic, exposed space is not open to the public in the arduous Finnish winter – although it could make a great ski slope!

This is not a building that gives up its secrets easily. Although the attention that has been given to the design, and the finishes, indicates that it is a structure of some importance, it is not until you grow close that you get some sense of what is inside. There are glimpses of the interior colour palette, which, with some strong greens and oranges and a deep blue, provide a complete contrast to the exterior. But the predominant material internally is not a painted finish but the natural colour of oak, which is used on walls, ceilings and floors. There are some sinuous curves to the interior, creating a cocooning effect in contrast to the tougher exterior. Oak, of course, is a natural choice, given the major role that it has played in the history of shipbuilding, But the contrast between outside and inside can also be seen as a response to the harsh Finnish climate. On a bright day, the exterior has an almost adamantine sparkle, and in warm weather it is possible to take advantage of every precious ray of the sun on the external stage. But on the many days when the external environment is more of an enemy than a friend, the warm tones of the interior offer shelter and welcome – as well as a great opportunity to explore a maritime heritage.

By building

What is the Ecca collection?

The Ecca collection showcases the world's architectural achievements using prepainted metal.

Contact us

Interested in prepainted metal? Contact us through our contact form, e-mail or call us at +32 2515 0023.