Like their Scandinavian neighbors, Finland is known for its revolutionary style of design that combines functionality with natural materials and organic forms. Every year, the Finnish Association of Architecture celebrates this distinctive style with the Finlandia Prize for Architecture. Now in its fourth year, Finland's most important architecture prize honors contemporary Finnish architecture — both within the country and abroad — in recognizing new/renovated projects that exhibit strong design excellence and were completed in the last three years.
This years winner is the Aalto University Harald Herlin Learning Centre, recently renovated by JKMM and Arkkitehdit NRT Oy. The center was originally designed by father of Finnish modernism, Alvar Aalto, in 1970 as a complement to the Otaniemi campus. The recent renovation, carried out in 2016, included the restoration of the listed interiors in the upper floors of the building and the addition of wholly new interiors to its lower floors, previously used as bookstores.
The prize was presented to architects Teemu Tuomi and Tuomo Remes at an awards ceremony at Valkoinen Sali, Helsinki. Of the renovation, Tuomi remarked: “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 modernizing the building services, improving accessibility and developing the furnishings and service concept."
“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" he added.
The new architectural solutions add a fresh contemporary touch to the familiar surroundings originally created by the most influential architect of modern Finland. Selected by Mr Reijo Karhinen, President and CEO of the OP Financial Group, Karhinen notes how 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.”
The new design boldly introduces innovative ideas that simultaneously challenge and respect the original space. "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 colors, the tangible air of creativity and new learning as well as innovative design solutions raise the heartbeat with excitement" Karhinen said.
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