The developing campus of Aalto university creates synergies

The architect bureau Verstas Arkkitehdit won the Campus 2015 architecture competition with their submission Väre. The target of the competition was the extension of the Otaniemi campus of the Aalto university. Verstas created a new square at the heard of Otaniemi that was designed by Alvar Aalto. The original central buildings of the campus and the new extensions form a new meeting point on the campus area.

The new campus area of Aalto university consists of the quarter ensemble made up by Väre, the School of Economics and A Bloc.

Main Entrance of Väre. Picture: Verstas Arkkitehdit

”The campus area is a cooperative project of several participants what brought its own challenges and flavors. We recognized directly how important the area is to many people”, says Väre’s main designer Jussi Palva of Verstas Arkkitehdit. The characteristic buildings designed by Aalto, the University of Technology and the main library, are located right beside. The new Väre building was designed to a location where there was a ”cute passage” in Aalto’s drawings, but that place had developed to a lively used intersection.

”The main ambition was to refine the area to a place where everything needed can be found easily. We also wanted to save the original idea and atmosphere of Alvar Aalto. We thought much about how to combine the new and the old areas with each other by a square of a suitable size. The square had to be small enough in order that the interaction between the people and the environment work out. The interaction also needs to be discreet to avoid that the work of Aalto next to it suffers. We took this as a positive challenge. The feedback of the other participants was rewarding. Also after the opening the ripple of conversations heard from the square on warm summer evenings shows to me that the square had fulfilled its mission.”

The design of the campus area became more detailed after the competition, but the main idea of the modular shape did not change in the construction phase. The submission for the competition was designed by the founders of Verstas, Jussi and Riina Palva, Väinö Nikkilä and Ilkka Salminen. The designers were well familiar with the campus area because they had studied and some of them even lived in Otaniemi. They knew the good and bad sides of the region in advance.

Väre’s modular structure. Picture Verstas Arkkitehdit

The core of the design is the modular structure. The volume of the buildings have changed a bit and some of the modules may be higher or lower than planned in the beginning. Mikko Rossi was the project manager in the construction phase and kept Verstas Arkkitehdit well involved in the process during the construction of the new buildings.

”We used many sketches and pens when we planned the scale and thought about how the scale of Aalto’s buildings transfers to a dissimilar building and how we get the outlook special although it adopts so much from the old one. Despite its size of over 40 000 m2 floor area the building has to feel suitable to the user - not too small and not too big. We did a lot of concept development, and we turned everything into an understandable format. We wanted that when you are walking through Väre you would have a map of the building in your mind.”

In the beginning of the design process Verstas used pens, sketches and Autocad, but in the competition phase the plans were immediately transferred to ArchiCAD because of the modeling and the information model. The other designers have utilized the information model later in their own designs.

Hustle of change

Moving to a new building always requires to take a stand for changes. At Väre it needs to be taken into account that the use of the spaces is intensified because empty rooms were not wanted. That is why there is a room reservation system in use. At the same time the designers have focused on the use of the rooms. It was important for them that Väre has rooms for relaxed meetings and for practical works and art.

”There are more meeting places, and people have already told us that they have met more colleagues in weeks than they have before met in a whole year. In the former University of Art and Design every department was on its own floor, and if people wanted to cooperate, they had to visit the other floors. Now in Väre all work places are on the first floor, the auditoriums on the square level, the studios on the second floor and the researchers on the top floor. The privacy of the rooms increases when climbing up.”

Väre’s main foyer. Picture: Verstas Arkkitehdit

”With interest I am waiting for the future also on the social level, because we have now managed to get the School of Economics and the art departments into the same environment. These sectors have before been separate from each other, but they should not be. I am waiting for synergies and positive effects.”

Aiming for a better environment

In the first years of Verstas there were only the founders in the office: Jussi and Riina Palva, Väinö Nikkilä and Ilkka Salminen. They designed smaller objects, but in their free-time they participated into competition with great passion. In 2006 their hobby change to work when they won their first competition win with their design of the school of Kirkkojärvi in Espoo. Shortly after that the first employee, Jari Saajo, was recruited. The team has grown step by step, and now there are already 35 employees working at Verstas Arkkitehdit.

The team of Verstas Arkkitehdit visited the new School of Economics. Picture: Verstas Arkkitehdit

”At the moment we have a lot of work to do, but we still design from the same starting point as at the beginning of Verstas. Different social trends are changing, but the core of our value and passion is the same: to build a better environment. We want to make better places for everyone. This can also be seen in our way of working, for example the interactions at the office. When we generate ideas all together it does not matter whose idea it is. We are all equal, and we have the same goal. It was a pleasure to get competent designers to work at Verstas, and the basis of the company is a peer-to-peer respect."

Tapiola’s culture center - Uusikuu

The last competition win of Verstas Arkkitehdit was with their submission Uusikuu at the competition for the culture center and square of Tapiola in Espoo. The win was given to a consortium of offices made up by Verstas Arkkitehdit, Arkkitehdit Mustonen Oy and LOCI maisema-arkkitehdit Oy.

Tapiola’s culture square. Picture: Verstas Arkkitehdit

”Thank you to all participants of the consortium. Together we have thought deeply about the garden city of Tapiola that is very interesting as an area. It is also a quite sensitive and big thing. In the construction business the green and soft values are often override by under the harder ones. We are strengthening the initial thinking of Tapiola garden city. We have planned the great culture center of Arto Sipinen to have a dialogue with the outer spaces. We have comprehensively focused on the improvement of the outer spaces. The area becomes greener, cars are not allowed anymore, and the culture center becomes just the right sized for people to live and spend their free-time."


Jussi Palva, main designer
Väinö Nikkilä, leading architect
Riina Palva, leading architect
Ilkka Salminen, leading architect
Mikko Rossi, project manager

Responsible architects:
Sari Kukkasniemi, Anna Björn, Kari Holopainen, Saara Kantele, Milla Parkkali, Miguel Pereira, Pekka Salminen, Soile Heikkinen (landscape architect), Tero Hirvonen (interior architect)

Aapo Airas, Pasi Piironen, Johanna Mustonen, Juhani Suikki, Arto Ollila, Aino Airas, Lauri Salo, Otto Autio, Arto Ollila, Jukka Kangasniemi, Ville Nurkka ,Teemu Pirinen, Heidi Antikainen, Anna Puisto, Aleksi Räihä, Katri Salonen, Erik Huhtamies, Anna Juhola, Maiju Suomi, Anniina Taivainen, Tuulikki Tanska, Ilkka Törmä, Karola Sahi (sisustusarkkitehti), Pyry Kantonen, Emma Kuokka, Oksana Lebedeva

Verstas Arkkitehtien kilpailuvoitot

Tapiolan kulttuurikeskus ja Kulttuuriaukion ympäristö, Espoo, 2019
Tapiolan Satakielenrinne, Espoo, 2017
Arabia 135 – development of a factory area, Helsinki, 2016
Lapin keskussairaala, Rovaniemi, 2015
Campus 2015 – core campus of the Otaniemi campus of Aalto university, Espoo, 2013

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About Eeva Vierros

Eeva Vierros is a Digital Marketing Designer at M.A.D. She has a background in Communications and Photography and a Master of Arts degree in Photography from the Aalto University of Industrial Arts. She has an eye for fine photos and pictures and she can easily find new perspectives on things. She is enthusiastic about photography, photojournalism, art, news and technology.
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