Aalto University Harald Herlin Learning Centre, Otaniemi, wins the 2017 Finlandia Prize for Architecture

The winner of the Finlandia Prize for Architecture 2017, selected by Mr Reijo Karhinen, President and CEO of the OP Financial Group, is the Aalto University Harald Herlin Learning Centre. The library building was completed in 1970 to complement the Otaniemi campus design by Alvar Aalto. The renovation of the library building designed by NRT Architects was completed in 2016. The 2017 Finlandia Prize for Architecture was presented to architects Teemu Tuomi and Tuomo Remes today at the awards ceremony at Valkoinen Sali, Helsinki.

“The renovation of the learning centre has succeeded in upgrading and modernising the building to meet today’s needs by boldly introducing novel ideas while challenging and yet respecting the original design of the building. In my view, the outcome is allegorical of the ongoing dramatic transition driven by rapidly evolving technology and digitalisation. Our capacity for renewal is being tested in all areas of life,” Reijo Karhinen notes in his statement.

“Distinct historical layers allow us to differentiate between the new and the original design. The spirited and daring interior design of the ground floor, in particular, gives the building a futuristic and dynamic identity. The view over the ground floor is a powerful experience – stunning colours, the tangible air of creativity and new learning as well as innovative design solutions raise the heartbeat with excitement. I recognise the same sense of new life that I have been lucky to also experience at our new premises in Vallila. The architects have shown the courage to genuinely question Aalto’s thought in a most appropriate manner, by reconciling architectural beauty and diverse functional demands,” Karhinen states.

Bringing a sense of the new era into a familiar complex

The flowing spaces of the learning centre interior, with its rich details illuminated from above, represent easily recognisable Aalto architecture. The exterior was left intact just like the library halls with their fixtures. A new learning centre has been opened in what used to be a book depository.

“The unique atmosphere of the main spaces in the building owes much to Alvar Aalto’s clever use of natural light. The calm and beautiful reading rooms have found their place in the new learning centre. Changes in these protected spaces were mainly to do with modernising the building services, improving accessibility and developing the furnishings and service concept,” says architect Teemu Tuomi.

“Introducing new types of learning into the building while respecting Aalto’s architecture was achieved by removing the book depository function altogether. One of the low depository floors was completely dismantled and a large opening was added to another to let in light. This resulted in a room that would have had no use in a 1970s library. The multi-purpose space can be defined and redefined according to future needs. It currently serves as a space for rehearsals, software learning, 3D printing, virtual games, events and also has a café,” explains Tuomi.

According to the pre-selection jury, the architectural solutions in the building, with bare, partly dismantled frame structures and modern interiors designed by interior architect Päivi Meuronen, add a fresh contemporary touch to the familiar surroundings. The functional changes necessitated by advanced library services have been carried out with due regard to the original concept while retaining the option to revert to the original design.

The plans, completed in 2016, were prepared by architects Teemu Tuomi and Tuomo Remes together with Eeva-Liisa Elo-Lehtinen (NRT Architects), who joined the team at the project planning stage. The interior architecture was created by Päivi Meuronen (JKMM Architects).

The fourth Finlandia Prize for Architecture

The Finlandia Prize for Architecture is awarded for the design or redevelopment of a notable new building or group of buildings completed within the past three years. The Prize was awarded for the first time in 2014. The prize may be awarded either to a Finnish or foreign architect, or to an architectural firm for a project designed for a location in Finland; or to a Finnish architect or architectural firm for a project designed for a location abroad. In Finland’s centennial year, the pre-selection jury of the 2017 Finlandia Prize for Architecture wanted to highlight first-rate renovation projects. In addition to the Harald Herlin Learning Centre, the other projects short-listed by the pre-selection jury for the 2017 Prize were the Helsinki City Theatre, the Roihuvuori Lower Level School and St. Paul’s Church in Tartu.