The Finnish Nature Centre Haltia, on the fringes of beautiful Nuuksio National Park, showcases modern ecological wooden construction techniques as well as Finland’s natural treasures.
Opened in summer 2013, the Finnish Nature Centre Haltia provides an attractive window into wild Finland just 25 kilometres (15 miles) from downtown Helsinki. The centre’s main exhibition features superb images of wildlife, landscapes and natural phenomena from around the country – and especially from Finland’s 37 national parks. Haltia managing director Timo Kukko explains that the centre seeks to awaken visitors’ interest in nature by presenting the kinds of sights, sounds and feelings they can enjoy in Finland’s great outdoors. The exhibition uses modern experiential audiovisual techniques instead of dusty stuffed animals or dry lists of facts. Haltia is expected to become a major attraction for nature-loving tourists visiting the Finnish capital. “We think about half of our 150,000 to 200,000 visitors a year will be foreigners,” says Kukko. “The exhibits have been planned to provide them with a memorable introduction to our natural treasures.”
Green building in a green setting
As befits a building that showcases nature and is located in a splendid setting on a rocky slope overlooking a lake, Haltia utilises the ecological benefits of innovative timber construction techniques. “Solar panels, ground-source heat, waste-heat reclamation systems and modern energy-saving technologies make the building 75 percent energy-self-sufficient,” says Kukko. Haltia is the first major public building in Finland to be constructed completely from cross-laminated timber elements. These robust elements are largely clad with Finnish spruce wood – dark brown on the exterior but light inside, just like a tree. Strategically sited windows and balconies offer enticing views of the lake and the surrounding pinewoods and birch groves from the centre’s exhibition rooms, restaurant, meeting spaces and nature classrooms. The roof of the building is literally green, covered with plants that will soak up carbon, sunlight and rainwater. Swallows are already preparing to nest in Haltia’s wooden observation tower – as if to show that nature approves of its own celebratory monument.
Sitting duck design
The oval shape of the building and its top-heavy viewing tower make it resemble a duck sitting on her nest and looking towards the lake. “One theme we wanted for the combined design of the building and its main exhibition is a link to Finnish mythology,” says architect Rainer Mahlamäki. “People have always loved stories, and we want to retell the creation myth from our national folk epic Kalevala, where the whole universe hatches from the egg of a goldeneye duck.”
In one corner of the main exhibition space stands a huge, wooden, latticed structure shaped like an egg. This giant egg houses a unique artwork, The Game of Life, created by Finnish artist Osmo Rauhala, in which two swans play chess surrounded by ever-changing kaleidoscopic images reflected in mobile mirrors.
Another permanent exhibition at Haltia features wild attractions within easy reach of Helsinki, aiming to encourage city-dwellers and Helsinki’s foreign visitors to get out and explore. The centre’s staff can provide plenty of tips about what to see and do, both in the immediate surroundings and across the country.
After absorbing Haltia’s exhibitions, adventurous visitors can head straight down to the lakeshore to rent rowboats or canoes, or follow tempting trails leading towards the deep green forests and secluded lakes of nearby Nuuksio National Park. The park is home to woodland wildlife, from owls, woodpeckers and hawks to mighty moose, elusive lynxes and the rare flying squirrel.
By Fran Weaver, May 2013