screen-shot-2017-01-29-at-12-03-49-pmACADEMIC BOOKSTORE HELSINKI SET ADRIFT

Tyler Brûlé is the editor-in-chief of the Monocle magazine. He also writes columns for The Financial Times. He is an important name in architecture, design and branding.

I have also written about the elegant, informative and fun Monocle guide books on better business, cosy homes and better living. Yet another one is already heading by post toward my studio and home address.

Now, finally, Mr. Brûlé  has in his column on the 27th of January touched on the subject  of the famous Helsinki Academic Bookstore, designed by Alvar Aalto´s studio. The bookstore has belonged to the most beautiful bookstores in the whole world. Its interior and excellent selection of books have always been highly appreciated. Visitors from all over the world have come to see it and maybe also enjoyed a cup of excellent espresso at Café Aalto on the second level. I used to go there with my dog (la) Reina. but have not visited the place since about half a year ago. The reasons are more than obvious, and now Mr Brûlé has payed attention to the same problems that I have seen emerging for over a year.

I started observing its slippery slide into something half vulgar and aesthetically messy, immediately after the Swedish Bonnier Books bought the store. They company  chose the managing Helsinki Vuitton shop director to start making The Academic Bookstore into a very basic chain store of the Bonnier group. That was surprising; I had earlier even in Stockholm noticed a trend completely different from the one that Bonnier – only doing things in the standard way – kept following. Adlibris, earlier just an Internet bookstore, had just opened a REAL bookstore at Regeringsgatan 55, with excellently crafted furniture and shelves designed  by Tam & Videgård, a highly appreciated Swedish architecture studio.

In Helsinki, many people, especially the always faithful regular customers, were shocked and dismayed because of the very the odd changes. Cheap-looking shelves started replacing the older but beautifully crafted book isles, cheap-looking sofas were brought in, odd advertising boards and funnily placed new shelves blocked the flow of the interior. The magazine and newspaper section was almost completely taken down, and gift items and postcard shelves and stands replaced the ones that earlier had contained wold class literature. On sale are piles of ”best-sellers” and crime stories, whereas the classics and other quality literature is hard to find. The architecture book section was a mix of this and that, even with really odd choices. The third level has now been taken over by a very bland-looking co-working space, with furniture by Martela – an odd choice, when Vitra and Artek are located in the neighbouring building.

Here an image of  one of the black shelves that do not match the rest of the interior and are too high and wrongly placed.


Now the basement, earlier devoted to a spacious and elegant stationery and office supply department, has vanished. Instead, there is a furniture store for more or less middle-class mediocre tastes and interior decorations. No harm there, but not my cup of tea.

Anyways, I now quote a passage from his article in FT. Here Tyler B. tells how he visited Helsinki a few days ago where he had met his really good friend as early as in 1983: ”While my grandmother took in the sites around the capital, I went off in my own direction and it was just off the main esplanade that I met my sharply styled, well-informed friend.”

Well, then one gets curious: who is this sharply styled and well-informed friend? A professor in history, perhaps?  But no: it is The Academic Bookstore, where Tyler Brûlé recently went to pay his respects, as has been his usual habit.

His criticism can be read in the column (you find the link further down). What Bonnier Books has done, after having bought the bookstore, is an example of how successful some wrong people in the wrong places can be in taking down an absolutely beautiful and highly valued brand. The fact that one person involved in this process, earlier worked for Vuitton as a Helsinki shop manager, gives a bad name even to Vuitton: did she learn anything about branding or did she just sell bags and scarves? The choice of the managing director was seen as very peculiar, in the literary book-buying circles here in Helsinki. Some cynical people said that enough books are not bought today, but is it a reason enough to destroy the finest bookstore in the country?

You can read the FT article through this link, but it may  happen that it is accessible only for people who get FT.

Today even one of the large main windows on the side of North Esplanade has been completely covered by advertising screens of th interior decoration and furniture stores in the basement. One of them is called Vallila Interior, a far cry from the likes of Artek and such.

It also might later happen, that due to many actions from the US, some people might start boycotting Starbucks. It has moved into the street corner, where earlier was the excellent newspaper and magazine section to the Academic. What if Starbucks loses its customer flow? Maybe Bonnier Books will then let it to a luxury nail studio? Or a studio for poodle grooming?

Anyways, here another quote form the FT column: ”What should be the European headquarters for the best in paper (books, stationery, periodicals, graphic prints and more) has now become a confused mess and Finland’s the poorer for it. Just as the good old bookstore is making a comeback, this once proud piece of Helsinki’s architectural and cultural heritage has been cast adrift. It’s time for responsible management to reel it back in and show it the respect it deserves.”

My earlier articles have been published in my blog and here are links to some texts written about thee Academic Bookstore about a year ago: ;

In the image: The Finnish ARKKITEHTI has been hidden among magazines for knitting and home-making



  1. Dear Friends of Arkkivahti,

    I’m really confused. As a loyal customer of the Academic Bookstore for over sixty years, I can’t agree at all with Mr. BrûIé’s hard criticism on the Academic Bookstore in Helsinki. Indeed it’s now managed by Bonniers, a Swedish publishing house. But that’s a normal business deal.

    Everybody knows that the traditional printed book is competing with the internet. This means that everything in the book world changes; the products, the channels, the prices. the market places. The Academic Bookstore has survived all this rather successfully.

    Alvar Aalto’s masterpiece is still just the same cozy meeting place for book lovers as it has always been. It’s not a deadly sin if a shelf or two have been changed or moved.

    I don’t know where and how Mr Brûle made his negative and superficial observations. Surely not by discussing with the shop’s customers, personnel or management. But I surely don’t share them at all.

    Welcome to Helsinki and the Academic Bookstore! Welcome to Café Aalto! Don’t hesitate to come because of one negative story. Things they are a´changin’! Says a Helsinki born book lover Jussi Rautsi, former employee of Architect Bureau Alvar Aalto.


  2. Myself I agree more with Mr. Brûlé than Mr. Rautsi.

    One thing is whether or not to buy books, and where and how. Stockmann also had a possibility of creating an Internet Academic Bookstore. But they missed it.

    Another thing is that the Academic Bookstore now in its Swedish ownership has done its best to make it impossible for old and regular customers to love the changes.

    I also took my time yesterday and looked into the comments in Helsingin Sanomat, after it published an article on the column in The Financial Times. Most of the readers, both in the digital issue and in the Helsingin Sanomat Facebook pages, agree with Mr. Brûlé.

    There is no logic in claiming that after accepting the negative changes made into the shop and the interior, and returning there to buy cheap bestsellers and criminal stories plus birthday cards, we could get the REAL Academic bookstore back. – The columnist also told in FT that he had also seen completely different trends in publishing and bookstores – trends that somehow are a complete opposite to how Bonnier Books has done it in Helsinki.

    I myself am now waiting for a new Monocle book to reach my address, by post, and to review it. Their fun and clever books are sold, for instance, in Berlin, in one of my favourite publisher-owned bookstores, called Gestalten. The shop has spatiality and quality, and also a café. But it has no Starbucks.

    Rautsi seems to be neglecting to mention the fact that it is not only the one FT column that has been critical. Neither is critical always negative.

    My view is that the editor-in-chief was more or less sad and unhappy than plain negative. He is right in his view that the Academic Bookstore already WAS a great brand. Bonnier Books just messed it up.

    The only way now should be forward. The BB Academic bookstore has hard work ahead it, if it tries to lure back the old and faithful customers whom it completely seems to disregard.



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