Finnish Post Office 1938, Functional Architecture shows what a big function the post was then

Welcome readers to todays offering from The Philatelist. So slip on your smoking jacket, fill your pipe, take your first sip of your adult beverage, and sit back in your most comfortable chair. We have an interesting story to tell of a giant building, later expanded and ask what should be done with it now.

The stamp today is from 1930s Finland. It was a time of functionalist architecture. The independence of Finland was fairly new, so the capital needed a large office building to administer the countries postal system. The design was local but one cannot help but notice how strikingly similar the stamp and building are too many from 1930-1960 throughout Europe and the world.

Today’s stamp is issue A44, a 9 Markha stamp issued by Finland in 1939 to celebrate the recent opening of the new main post office building in Helsinki. It was part of a three stamp issue in various denominations. According to the Scott Catalog, the stamp is worth 50 cents in it’s used condition.

Finland achieved its independence in 1917. The territory had passed several times between Russia and Sweden but was sparsely populated and still contained an indigenous group of people the Sami, who are somewhat analogous to Eskimos. The national leader, Mannerheim, was busy learning the Finnish language and Lutheran Finland attempted prohibition of alcohol, something the Russian Czars had never allowed in the Grand Duchy period. There were also problems with borders and getting everyone on the same page culturally. Typical stuff for a new country.

What there was also was a lot of institution building and bigger government. This was true whether the country was socialist or capitalist. So new universities, and government offices and more city living. To deal with these trends, a new style of architecture grew up called functionalism. The American Architect Louis Sullivan famously said form follows function. The large workforces being built to administer the growing institutions needed large buildings to house the workers within. The buildings would not be quasi cathedrals to God or King but rather be purposely designed for the function. Decoration was to a minimum but the massive structures needed to be strong and steel reinforced concrete was specified.

In the case of the Finland main post office a competition was started in 1934 and the building was completed in 1938. The architects were Finns and did the job while they were still in there 20s. Their training was local as well but it is clear that despite the attempts by the government to develop a distinctive local style, the result was somewhat generic. The post office function was well looked after and when additional space was needed a new floor was added seamlessly in the 1950s. The building is still in use today.

With the decline in postal volumes, the building is today somewhat underutilized. This is true of so many of these edifices from the functional architecture period. There is a tendency by governments just to let things like this go on even if times have changed.

I have a modest proposal for this building and the many like it around the world. Rather than knocking them down or just letting them gradually fall into disuse, repurpose them as housing. Young people flock to big cities and many have put off marriage and child rearing. What they need are centrally located affordable places to live. Local housing stock tends to be taken by older established people and conversely by those on the public dole. With government ownership this building  could be rented out slightly above cost but without subsidy and provide convenient, safe affordable housing for the young people that are so necessary for the vibrancy of a city. The postal museum inside could continue as a nod to the buildings past. Just a suggestion.

Well my drink is empty and so it is time to open the discussion in the below comment section. come again tomorrow for another story that can be learned from stamp collecting.