New Life for Aalto University Undergraduate Centre by Arkkitehdit NRT Oy

New Life for Aalto University Undergraduate Centre by Arkkitehdit NRT Oy
Renovation of the buildings designed by Alvar Aalto [Otaniemi, Espoo] Finland
metalocus, JOSÉ JUAN BARBA
Aalto University Undergraduate Centre by Arkkitehdit NRT Oy. Photograph © Tuomas Uusheimo
In the 1950s and '60s, Otaniemi became one of the most interesting sites of Finnish architecture. The general plan of the campus was made by the architect Alvar Aalto. His office was in charge of the main building and the Otahalli sports hall, built for the Olympics, and of several other buildings. The oldest dormitories, the Servin Mökki restaurant and the Otaniemi chapel were designed by the office of Heikki and Kaija Siren. Dipoli was designed by Reima Pietilä and Raili Paatelainen.
The main part of the main building was completed in 1964. Alvar Aalto drew up the plans for the Otaniemi campus with his first wife Aino Aalto (1894–1949). Aino worked closely with her husband especially in designing furniture and interiors. Together, with his second wife Elissa Aalto (1922–1994), Aalto designed the main building of the Helsinki University of Technology on the Otaniemi campus. The fan-like auditorium part was completed in 1964. Today, the building is Aalto University's Undergraduate Centre.

Elissa and Alvar also designed the Otaniemi campus library which was completed in 1969. The library has undergone an extensive renovation by Arkkitehdit NRT Oy and in the autumn of 2016 all Aalto University campus libraries moved under the same roof, the Harald Herlin Learning Centre

Description of project by Arkkitehdit NRT Oy

The former main building of the Helsinki University of  Technology took on a new role when three universities  were merged as Aalto University in 2010. The Otaniemi  Campus designed by Alvar Aalto was chosen as the shared home of the Aalto Schools of Engineering, Business and  Arts & Design.

The main building was originally completed in two stages in 1964 and 1974. The entire building was in need of renovation to bring it up to a modern-day university’s needs, including improved accessibility and flexible educational spaces. Some facilities were repurposed as they no longer served their original function. The HVAC systems, safety exits and fixtures were  also in need of modernization.

Renovating such a prestigious landmark – exemplifying as it does a ‘total work of art’ – was a challenge. With the advent of flexible working and learning practices, old buildings – even masterpieces – must adapt to changing user needs to maintain their value. Retrofitting flexible educational spaces in an old building without altering the original architectural concept is difficult, however. The building required new HVAC systems and safety exits for which no space was allocated in the original plan. Architects NRT showed exemplary skill in overcoming these challenges in their tailored planning and execution.

Each wing – variably 2-4 storeys high – is designed to function as a separate building linked to the campus complex. The main volume is rhythmically articulated by small courtyards. Aalto envisioned a leafy, American-style enclosed campus with  paths traversing the yards between the main building, library  and shop. The striking, auditorium-like roof of the low-rise  main building is an iconic campus landmark

The main façades, spatial logic and detailing were fully  preserved, with the entrance hall, auditorium and main cor- ridors superbly restored to their former glory. The workroom wings underwent heavier modifications, with spaces opened  up for greater flexibility. Most of the new ventilation engine rooms are now located in the basement, maintaining the hori-zontal profile of the teaching wings. The architects preserved the most valuable features of the architecture in a logical  hierarchy. The laboratories, studios and lecture rooms were  converted into open spaces that can be furnished adaptably  to serve group learning activities. The open-plan work hubs  are spatially ingenious, though the furniture could be more inspiring and better balanced with the architecture.

Today the architect is no longer a ‘creative genius’ so much  as a ‘master negotiator’ who strikes a balance between  the project’s architectural aspirations, the wishes of various  user groups and other practical requirements. In this project,  Architects NRT successfully reconciled goals that were to  some extent contradictory. The building was still in use by  the university when the renovations began, and its user base  expanded after the school became part of Aalto University.  NRT did excellent work in catering to the needs of all of  the school’s faculties in this ambitious renovation project.

Arkkitehdit NRT Oy
Design Team
Matti Nurmela, Tuomo Remes, Teemu Tuomi
Architectural design team: Teemu Tuomi, Matti Nurmela, Tuomo Remes, Timo Kilpiö, Kristiina Suoniemi, Jani Koivula, Heikki Ruoho, Tuula Olli, Susanna Anttila, Tommi Suvanto, Kimmo Roponen, Heikki Saarinen, Tuula Hikipää, Sini Papakonstantinou, Mila Viksilä
Partner in Charge
Teemu Tuomi, (2008-2012 architect Matti
Project Architect
Tuomo Remes
Aalto University Properties Ltd.
Otakaari 1, 02150 Espoo, Finland
Building Consultant.- Olli Jaakkola, Juh
a Pesonen. Structural Designer.- Keijo Saloviin. HVAC Designer.- Paavo Tikkanen. Electrical Designer.- Kirsti Pakkanen. Acoustic and AV designer.- Ari Lepoluoto, Juha Storm
47985.0 sqm
Project Year.- 2015-2016
Schindler Management Ltd., KONE Oyj, Esk
o Nurmisen Maalaamo Oy, OTIS Elevator Company, Verhoiluliike Wiik Oy, Wallenium OÜ, TRT Oy, Vanalilla Ehitus, Heikkinen Yhtiöt, Voller, Hissipörssi Yhtiöt Oy, SRT Oy


Alvar Aalto (1898-1976) qualified as an architect from Helsinki Institute of Technology (later Helsinki University of Technology and now part of the Aalto University) in 1921. He set up his first architectural practice in Jyväskylä. His early works followed the tenets of Nordic Classicism, the predominant style at that time. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, he made a number of journeys more