Finnish birch takes on an entirely new look in Helsinki–Vantaa’s West Pier with a forest theme expected to appeal especially to Asian travellers

Competition between airports is constantly growing and several European airports have major development measures under way. Helsinki–Vantaa Airport is also currently rolling out a project to develop its transfer traffic with the goal of responding to the projected growth in traffic between Asia and Europe. One part of the project is the recently opened West Pier.

When it comes to competition between airports, important aspects are smooth logistics, appealing services and short transfer times but airports can also set themselves apart by focusing on the customer experience. In the brand-new West Pier, the travellers’ enjoyment of the airport environment has been enhanced thanks to, amongst other things, the unique solutions chosen for the interior spaces. One cross-cutting theme is Finnish nature which can be both seen and heard: a 75-metre-long screen shows Finland’s four seasons and the experience is heightened by sound triggers such as the crunch of snow under foot. The audio-visual experience is softened with wooden facades filled with beautiful scenes from nature created using perforated birch plywood.                                           

“The birch plywood used in the West Pier gives the airport a personal touch as it creates a unique ambiance,” says Tatiana Meyer, Decorative Project Manager for Koskisen, which supplied the birch panels for the West Pier.

In addition to the aim of bringing Finnish nature into the spotlight in creative ways, sustainability was also a consideration. Wood procured from Finnish certified forests was thus a natural choice of material.

“Wood is a basic material for Finns. Through-coloured birch veneer was decided on as the material for the west terminal. It represents Finnish birch, but in a new way,” says Kai Lindvall of PES-Architects Ltd., who was responsible for the materials for the terminal’s interior.                     

The birch plywood panels are adorned with the photos of award-winning nature photographer Lassi Rautiainen.

Usually graphics are printed onto wood panels but for the West Pier the images based on Rautianen’s photos were machined directly into the wood panels. This new wood-graphics technique required several test runs to determine the optimum drilling depth and intensity.

“On a black panel, the contrast between the photo and the coloured wood is strong, while on a lighter panel the effect is achieved using shadow and gluing veneers” says Lindvall. Finnish birch veneer is a high-quality and strong material that can be used in a number of ways. According to Meyer, birch is well-suited to Scandinavian design and the benefits of birch veneer in interior decoration are its adaptability and its possibility for personalisation.

“These panels hold tremendous potential. I believe that the Helsinki–Vantaa West Pier is just the beginning. In the future, we will be seeing them in restaurants, schools, shopping centres – everywhere!”