Leander's House
by Igor Sergeev

The National Holding Bank (Kansallis-Osake Pankki) building is one of Sortavala most remarkable creations believed to have been designed by Gottlieb Eliel Saarinen, one of the most prominent architects in Finland history. Born in Rantasalmi in 1873, he grew up in Ingermanland, where his father served as a preacher. He graduated from Helsinki Polytechnic Institute in 1897 and started his activity as architect in Gesellius-Lindgren-Saarinen bureau. This bureau was founded by young architects eager to reach their creative objectives through national-romantic trend of Scandinavian architecture.

This trend developed in the framework of the new style, which received the name of modern and reflected multiple sides of life, culture and philosophy. The style represented a mixture of modern technology achievements and a new way to fulfil functional tasks addressing at the same time medieval and popular architectural traditions. Although various forms of ancient cult and castle architecture were used within this style, the stylisation was not paramount: architects rather tried to recreate main principles of last centuries` architecture where they sought archetypes of harmony, similar to those found in nature.

Judging by the building original blueprints one can make a conclusion that it was designed at a famous Vittråsk villa at the time when the Gesellius-Lindgren-Saarinen bureau was still in existence, that is in 1903, not long before the moment when the bureau itself ceased its activities. After that, every one of architects started their “solo” carrier. Historians believe that Saarinen, however, played a main role in the building design.

1903. Leander's House 1903. Leander's House

Eliel Saarinen was one of the brilliant Finnish representatives of the new architectural style. It is worth noticing that he was permanently in contact with prominent actors of Russian cultural scene of that time, for instance with Igor Grabar, Serguei Dyagilev, Nikolai Rerih and Maxim Gorky. He was a member of the “Art World” society and was elected in 1906 a member of Petersburg Academy of Arts. His most important achievements are buildings of the Railway Station (1905–1914) and that of the National Museum (1905–1910) in Helsinki and number of dwelling houses throughout Finland. Dr.Winter`s Summer Cottage near Sortavala is also known as his creation.

Saarinen works in the USA from the end of 1920s, where he co-designs buildings with his son Eero. Such buildings as Concert Hall in Buffalo, a church in Indiana, and General Motors Technical Center are widely renowned. After his father death in 1950 Eero continued to design buildings, and his own works are also widely known. Among the renowned ones is a J.F.Kennedy International Airport in New York, the Arch in Saint-Louis and some others.

The building in Sortavala was designed to room bank offices and several apartments, including, on the second floor, the one for the bank’s president O.Leander. The construction ended in 1905.

The construction lot situation right in the downtown central part implied some responsibilities from the architectural point of view. Hence the decision to make the building asymmetrical and to visually stress the corner part of it in order to create a pronounced silhouette of roof “pincers”. Steep roofing and numerous high chimneys are its pronounced elements along with three protruding bay windows which contribute to extra expressivity. Among another exterior design parts it is worth to note the relief on main “pincers” showing an original “Tree of Life” as well as originally styled windows around the second floor of the principal facade. Such elements were proper to the modern style in architecture. The granite facing at the lower part of the building is very thoroughly performed, and the portal facing Karjalankatu (Karelian street) is especially expressive. The facing is made with granite mined locally, at the Riekkalansaari Island deposit near Sortavala.

During an alteration of the building in 1934 after Lars Sonk’s design, the window openings of the ground floor were enlarged.

In his article about "Leander's House” Karelian architect Nikolai Kuspak wrote: “…We should take a notice that not everything was successful in this work by young architects as far as general composition of the building is concerned. Facade shapes are not in complete harmony with each other, which also concerns the three bay windows, as well as window openings are a bit heteroclite in style, that is one can notice some superfluous elements in the building design. But the general expressiveness and monumentality, alongside with desire to add national features corresponding to the building important emplacement makes it one of the best and most memorable in town…”

During Soviet time "Leander's House" was used for various purposes; local police department had been quartered there for years, which irrevocably ruined the interior. In the beginning of 2000's the building accommodates one of Karelian Saving Bank branches.

As we have already mentioned, little was left from interior decoration of the building, although some details of main staircase and ceramic stoves with coloured tiles on the ground and first floors are still noteworthy, as well as are doors with originally shaped glass incrustations.

Translated by Alexandre Nikolaev