A little bit of history

Where does Annankatu get
its name from?

Annankatu is Finnish for “Anna’s road” and it was named after Saint Anna, the mother of the Virgin Mary, and the Russian Order of Saint Anna. The road’s original name, which was formalised in 1820, was “St. Annae Gatan”, or “Saint Anna’s road”. The “St.” was nevertheless dropped shortly after. The current Finnish and Swedish names of the road, Annankatu and Annegatan respectively, were formalised in 1906.

Soldiers and craftsmen and -women

The area of what is now known as Kamppi served as a military training ground, or “camp”, during the period when Finland was under Swedish rule. The Russian military also used the camp after Finland became Grand Dutchy in connection with the Russian Empire in 1809. More people moved to the area little by little. By the 1850s–70s, Kamppi had become an artisanal district where various craftsmen and -women sold their wares, right about where Kamppi Shopping Centre now stands. Narinkka, the square in the centre of Kamppi, derives its name from the Russian phrase “на рынке” (pronounced “na rynke”), which means “on the market”. Water was carried from a well in the courtyard of Annantalo.

Most domestic servants and labourers in Helsinki were Swedish-speaking. The idea of popular education spread quickly, and towns were ordered to open schools for the specific purpose of raising the level of education across the nation. These schools were designed expressly for “children of servants and the lower working classes”. Most operated in humble buildings, but the school on Annankatu was a striking exception.

Annankatu School

Annantalo, which is Finnish for “Anna’s house”, was originally known as “Annegatans svenska folkskola”, or “Annankatu Swedish-speaking public school”, and it was one of the buildings that housed the new kinds of schools in Helsinki towards the end of the 19th century. The handsome Neo-Renaissance building was designed by architect Gustaf Nyström, and when it was completed in 1886, it represented the latest technology of the era: electric lighting throughout, running water, and 15 spacious classrooms kitted out for different subjects.

Nyström’s original drawings have met some changes over the years: The third floor, for example, is a later extension, and the wall, which originally divided the building into two halves – the south side was for boys and the north side for girls – has since been taken down, as has the fabulous wooden Art Nouveau outbuilding, which Karl Hård af Segerstad designed for the back garden in 1910. According to the drawings, the building had 20 toilets for girls and 10 for boys, as well as a woodshed, a utility room, and a kitchen.

Most of the students of Annankatu School came from working-class families. Their parents were typically carpenters, coachmen, inn-keepers, stonemasons, farmhands, bricklayers, soldiers, lithographers, cobblers, labourers and merchants. One had a PhD. Many parents wanted their children to work instead of going to school, and some children worked after school in the evenings or even at night. The teachers of Annankatu School organised what is believed to be the first parents’ evening in Finland in 1889. Their aim was to convince parents about the importance of schooling.

The school was closed during the wars. The building served as a military base during the restless years of 1916–1919, as barracks in 1939–1940, and as a military hospital in 1941–1942. The school reopened after the wars and operated until 1969.

Annantalo Arts Centre opens

The building then went through a long string of temporary tenants. After a comprehensive renovation in 1984–1985, plans began to form of an arts centre for children and young people, which was ceremoniously opened in January 1987.

“I hope that trains, trams, cars and small feet bring thousands of children here from all over Helsinki! I want this building to be a hive of exuberant courage and daring, the vigour of children and young people! Happiness for this building and from here to homes, the whole of Helsinki and why not the entire nation – that is what we adults wish you and what we expect we will get”, said Aarne Laurila, Chairman of the City of Helsinki Board of Culture at Annantalo’s opening ceremony on 23 January 1987.