Lahti was granted its town charter in 1905 and the following year the first steps were taken towards building a town hall. The competition to design the town hall was awarded to Eliel Saarinen in 1911, and by the following year building work was complete. Today, Lahti town hall has been largely restored to its original magnificence and constitutes what is for Finland a rare example of ideas about the role of ornamentation in architecture at the turn of the twentieth century.
Saarinen's early style of architecture and associated furnishings were influenced by both the Glasgow School and the Vienna Seccession, and by 1908 he had evolved as a leading exponent of the National Romantic movement, a muscular style characterised by both vernacular and Romanesque models. In 1922 Saarinen emigrated to the United States, and the following year was asked to develop plans for the Cranbrook Educational Community, which in 1932 became the Cranbrook Academy of Art. With Saarinen as its first president, the Academy became the premier design institution in America, and helped to nurture many of the country's most promising designers.