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The House of the Estates and the House of Nobility, where the Diet of the Estates had met, were not big enough for the new Parliament. The unicameral Parliament met in the Fire Brigade Building in Keskuskatu from 1907 to 1910 and then in the Heimola Building at the corner of present-day Yliopistokatu and Vuorikatu beginning in 1911. This is where Parliament approved Finland's declaration of independence in December 1917. Both these buildings were torn down in the 1960s. The committees and the library operated in the House of the Estates up to 1931.
The first architectural competition for a building to house Parliament was conducted in 1908. The winning entry, submitted by Eliel Saarinen, proposed Tähtitorninmäki (Observatory Hill) as the site, but partly because of opposition from the Emperor the project was never carried out. After Finland gained independence, a second competition organised in 1924 was won by the architectural firm of Borg-Sirén-Åberg with a proposal called Oratoribus ("For the Orators"). Johan Sigfrid Sirén (1889-1961) was mainly responsible for preparing the proposal. Construction began in 1926 and the building was completed on Arkadianmäki (Arcadia Hill) in 1931.
Sirén was an internationally oriented architect who kept up with modern currents during travels to the Nordic countries, Germany, Austria and Italy. One building that made a particular impression on Sirén was Ragnar Östberg's Stockholm City Hall, which was completed in 1923. The Plenary Hall also shows influences from the Pantheon in Rome, for example.
Constructed as a monument to independence and democracy, Parliament House is a total work of art in which architecture, industrial design, craftsmanship and visual art combine to form a harmonious whole based on the architect's vision.
The first floor contains the main foyer, the restaurant, the newspaper room, the Speaker's reception rooms and various offices. At both ends of the foyer are marble staircases that lead up to the fifth floor.
The second or main floor is centred around the Plenary Hall. Its galleries have seats for the public, the media and diplomats. Also located on this floor are the Hall of State, the cafeteria, the Speaker's Corridor and the Government's Corridor.
The third floor contains rooms for committees and the committee secretariat as well as the Records Office and facilities for the media. The fourth floor is reserved for committees. Its largest rooms are the old Grand Committee Room and the Finance Committee Room.
The fifth floor contains meeting rooms and offices for the parliamentary groups. Additional offices for the parliamentary groups are located on the sixth floor, along with facilities for the media.
Parliament House is an example of 1920s classicism. The main elevation contains 14 columns with Corinthian capitals and 46 steps leading up to the main entrance. The exterior is granite that was excavated in Kalvola.
The decor reflects the building's own internal hierarchy: the more important the function, the more impressive the surroundings. The interior is classical for the most part, but functionalism and art deco are visible in some details.
The construction project was conducted under the direction of J.S. Sirén. He also designed the furniture in the most important rooms as well as the lighting fixtures and many other details, such as doors, bannisters and the voting urns in the Plenary Hall.
A large number of prominent young Finnish artists assisted Sirén in the project.
Most of the materials inside the building come from Finland, but Kolmården marble from Sweden and Carrara marble from Italy were also used as floor materials and in staircases.
The furniture is mainly made of stained flamy and curly birch, oak and walnut. South American rosewood was used in the Plenary Hall and the Speaker's Room, however.
A three-part expansion was completed in 1978 on the basis of plans prepared by the architectural firm of Pitkänen-Laiho-Raunio. Wings with offices for MPs were added on both sides of Parliament House. One of the wings also contains reception rooms for delegations and an auditorium.
The most visible part of the expansion is a semicircular building that partly encloses the Speaker's Square. Since the 1980s a building formerly occupied by the Association of Finnish Cities has also belonged to Parliament. All the buildings in the Parliament complex are connected by underground passages.
The National Audit Office operates in rented facilities in Antinkatu.
The Little Parliament annex, which was completed in 2004, was designed by the architectural firm of Pekka Helin & Co. In addition to offices it contains the meeting rooms of the Grand Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee, an auditorium, the Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman and the Visitor's Centre, which distributes brochures and has a small cafe that is open to the public.
The art competition for the Little Parliament building was the biggest competition of its kind in Finland. Inside extensive use has been made of Finnish rocks and tree species: alder, pine, spruce, birch, maple, ash and even the black poplars that had grown on the lot.
In front of the Little Parliament is Eila Hiltunen's sculpture Past Knights, a monument to universal suffrage that was unveiled during Parliament's centennial celebration. Next to the main entrance Jukka Lehtinen's steel sculpture Where Strawberries Grow stands in a basin decorated with wild strawberry plants.