Unitas Banking Institute

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Photo: Meela Leino / MFA
  • PlaceHelsinki
  • Completion 1963
  • Decade1960s
  • PeriodThe rise of the welfare state
  • Year of selection2017


The institute for the training of bank staff located in Vuosaari, Helsinki, is one of the earliest representatives of its type. According to the architects, it was “a design task – to create a school, college, boarding school – that did not yet have a definitive tradition” (Ypyä 1964). Congress and conference tourism became common in the 1970s, which was when a number of educational and training centres were built in different parts of the country, often placed far from city centres in a beautiful natural setting. In many cases they were like comfortable holiday hotels. This was also the case with the Unitas Banking Institute, which indeed later was converted into a hotel.

The idea of building a training centre came about when preparations were being made for the centenary celebrations of the Nordic Union Bank. A beautiful shoreline plot was chosen fifteen kilometres from the centre of Helsinki, which the bank had acquired next to Villa Furuborg (Hjalmar Åberg, 1917), an Art Nouveau villa which it already owned.

Architects Martta and Ragnar Ypyä were chosen in particular to design the new building because of their reputation as designers of several school buildings. It is also said that the bank’s management wished specifically to commission the work from the architect couple.

The architects’ inspiration came from similar projects in Denmark and Sweden. On pre-planning study trips they also visited the then recently completed Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (Vilhelm Wohlert and Jørgen Bo, 1958) in Humlebaek in Denmark. The museum provided probably the strongest prototype for the design of the Unitas Institute as a pavilion-like building set amidst unspoilt nature. Long glazed corridors connect together the lecture hall, accommodation wings and section containing the restaurant and reception facilities.

The subtle placement of the building in its surroundings was typical for the Ypyäs’ architecture in general. In the design of the Unitas Institute the characteristics of the building location were among the most central starting points and were incorporated into the architecture. The presence of the forest, the proximity of the sea and the diversity of the rocky terrain were skilfully taken into consideration in the positioning of the building complex. Nature is visible in the interior, often even indirectly through the building via large glazed areas, thus making it an integral part of the architecture. The window wall in the bedrooms facing the open sea is like a landscape painting.

The façades consist of red-brick prefabricated elements and large areas of glazing. Many different species of wood were used in the interior. The ceiling of the lobby and restaurant facilities is an artwork made of vertical wooden battens. The impressive lamps of the reception space are made from Murano glass. The building also has a number of uniquely designed fireplaces. Playful decorativeness was a theme that enriched the architecture in several of the Ypyäs’ projects. The couple’s eldest daughter Marjatta Ypyä-Silvennoinen was involved in the interior design of the Unitas Banking Institute.

The institute building was extended in 1987 in accordance with plans by architects’ office Olli Kuusi.


Leena Makkonen

Makkonen, Leena (1999). Martta ja Ragnar Ypyä – arkkitehtipariskunnan elämäntyö. Acta Universitatis Ouluensis. Oulu: Oulun yliopisto.
Standertskjöld, Elina (2011). Arkkitehtuurin vuosikymmenet 1960–1980. Helsinki: Suomen rakennustaiteen museo, Rakennustieto Oy.
Ypyä, Martta & Ragnar (1964). ”Pankki-opisto. PYP-Unitas-opisto / Vuosaari”, Arkkitehti 6/1964.