Helsinki University of Technology

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Photo: Richard Peters / AAM
  • PlaceEspoo
  • Completion 1949–1975
  • Decade1940s
  • PeriodPost-war modernism
  • Year of selection1993


It was decided in 1948 to transfer Helsinki University of Technology from its location in Hietalahti in Helsinki to Otaniemi in Espoo, and so the state acquired land from the Otaniemi manor estate for the new campus.

A town planning competition was held for the campus in 1949, which was won by Alvar Aalto with his proposal “Ave Alma Mater, Morituri te salutant”. Aalto was responsible for the planning of Otaniemi for a period of two decades, and designed the campus’s key buildings, the university’s main building and library, as well as several other buildings. Aalto continued on the basis of his proposal from the town planning competition in 1953-1955, and again in 1960 with the design of the main building, which was built in 1961-1964.

The main building is situated in the location of the former manor house within the Otaniemi cultural landscape, and dominates the entire campus from its vantage point on a knoll framed by the remains of the manor park. On the south side of the building is the architectural culmination point of the campus, the festival square, which is terraced so that it is higher than its surroundings. It is flanked by the most distinguished spaces of the main building, such as the amphitheatre-shaped auditoriums and their foyers. The lower steps of the “amphitheatre” form the seating of an open-air auditorium that overlooks the festival square; the upper steps form clerestory strip windows providing light to the auditoriums. Above them is spread out a copper “velarium”. The more conventional classrooms and offices are located north of the “amphitheatre” in the three- and four-storey wings.

Although this was a matter of designing the main building of Helsinki University of Technology, in terms of building technology or materials, it did not represent the forefront of development: in-situ cast concrete frames with details that required precise design work are archaic, and the facade materials – granite, red brick and copper – are even more traditional. This is consistent with an architecture that is rife with antique motifs: amphitheatres, temple tympana and colonnades. The main building emanates the ideals of the humanistic education of the cultured university.

The main building was extended in accordance with plans by Aalto in 1968-1975. A new auditorium (Architects A-konsultit) was built at its northern end in 2002, which was carefully adapted to Aalto’s architecture. The main building has been renovated in stages in 2005-2015 (Architects A-konsultit, Architects NRT).

The building has been mostly well-preserved. The most distinguished public spaces, including their interiors, have generally been well-preserved. Greater alterations have been carried out in the more conventional teaching facilities.

Nowadays the building is in the use of Aalto University, but is no longer the main building. Otaniemi and the main building of the former Helsinki University of Technology are both internationally and nationally representative examples of campus design and university building after the Second World War; the main building is the most significant symbol of the area. Comprehensively designed from the external areas all the way to the interior details, the main building is one of the key works in Aalto’s post-war production.


Jaakko Penttilä

Penttilä, Jaakko (2003). Teknillisen korkeakoulun päärakennus ja kirjasto. Rakennushistoriallinen selvitys ja inventointi. Painamaton / unpublished document, Alvar Aalto -säätiö.
Penttilä, Jaakko (2008). ”Building Alma Mater. Alvar Aalto and the Otaniemi Campus”. Hipeli, Mia (toim./ed.), University of Technology, Otaniemi 1949–74. Alvar Aalto Architect, Volume 13. Helsinki: Alvar Aalto Academy.