Åbo Akademi Book Tower
The architectural competition for the main building of the Helsinki School of Economics (nowadays Aalto University School of Business) was held in 1941 during the Interim Peace. The winning entry by architects Hugo Harmia and Woldemar Baeckman was built in 1948-50 amidst the most difficult building material shortage and rationing of the post-war reconstruction era. Most of the construction costs were paid for through donations.
The building is placed such that the rooms are grouped mainly around the perimeter of the plot, with only the space in front of the main entrance left as a landscaped forecourt. The enclosed block continues the urban structure of the surrounding city district, Etu-Töölö. With its yellow-brick facades, the building nevertheless stands out from the neighbouring red-brick apartment blocks. Each wing of the building has a different function and room layout. The large lecture hall and festival hall together with the entrance hall and foyer form the central spatial sequence of the entrance side. The six-storey north wing contains lecture halls and classrooms as well as a library on the top floor. The south wing originally comprised, among other things, laboratory facilities, but these were converted into offices during a subsequent renovation.
The interiors and furniture are an important part of the building’s overall appearance. The choice of materials reflects the hierarchical order of the spaces. Interior designers Olli Borg, Ilmari Tapiovaara and Maija Heikinheimo, designers Kai Frank and Paavo Tynell, as well as artists Eino Kauria and Yrjö Rosola contributed to the overall design work. Michael Schilkin’s ceramic relief on the main entrance façade depicts merchants. Despite the challenges to the construction, the execution was of a high standard, which is also evident in the state of preservation of the many materials and details.
On its completion, the building was described as “appropriately bright “; the pine plywood surfaces of the walls of the main spaces were complemented by the strong colours of the furniture upholstery. The entire spirit of the building is encapsulated in the festival hall. Its patinated plywood cladding and the brass light fixtures simultaneously create in the space both a feeling of luxury and cosiness. In the design of the building special attention was paid also to the acoustics, as evident, for example, in the adjustable acoustic panels of the upper windows of the festival hall, which for a long time was used as both a venue for concerts and radio broadcasts.
The renovation completed in 1998 (NRT Architects) enabled the subtle preservation of the building’s character, while renewing the technical infrastructure and areas of wear.
Helsinki School of Economics is listed on the DOCOMOMO Finland registered selection of important architectural and environmental modernist sites.
Text: Sirkkaliisa Jetsonen / DOCOMOMO Finland