Preserver: Helsinki City Archives
C. L. Engel’s collection of letters and drawings
The collection of the letters of the architect Carl Ludvig Engel, which the City of Helsinki acquired from Germany in 1938, affords a unique glimpse into the history of Finnish architecture. The collection, which covers the years from 1813 to 1840, consists of letters Engels sent to Germany to his friend from his student days Carl Herrlich and his nephew Eduard Jacob. The collection allows an opportunity to become acquainted with Engel’s creative process and everyday challenges. As an architect, Engels was a master of applying the strict classical ideals of the era, but he was also very interested in developing the technical aspects of construction. Engel’s letters are a priceless source for the study of our architectural history.
The collection also gives a wider view on the spirit, culture and social phenomena of the era. The letters are almost the only source of information about Engel's private life and character. The observations Engel made as a foreigner about Finland, and above all about cosmopolitan and multilingual Helsinki, offer an invaluable insight into the roots of our cultural heritage.
Carl Ludvig Engel (1778 – 1840) was appointed as the architect for the Helsinki rebuilding committee in 1816. From 1824, he worked as the highest official responsible for public buildings in the Grand Duchy of Finland. Engel may have had the biggest influence on the development of Finnish architecture and the birth of our building stock of any Finnish architect. The unique impact of his work can be seen in town plans all over Finland and in our architecture. Classicism became the quintessential feature of Finnish architecture. Buildings designed by Engel were erected in Finland from the Åland Islands to Mikkeli, from Helsinki all the way to Tornio in the north.
Engel designed the public buildings in the new monumental centre of Helsinki, such as Helsinki Cathedral, the Senate House and the University’s main building and library on the Senate square. Designing these central buildings was undoubtedly Engel’s greatest achievement. Creating a new city from nothing was a project that nurtured Engel’s creativity and made use of his exceptional artistic abilities. In addition to the buildings Engel designed himself, he was also responsible for the supervision of the entire country’s building activities and town planning and the training of new architects. He thus had a profound influence on the entire architecture of the country and left a lasting legacy for future generations of architects.