The predecessor to the brand-new UPM head office was built one hundred years ago at the corner of Eteläranta and Esplanaadi, a prime site in those days. The Töölönlahti landowners, the City of Helsinki and central government, offered the prime sites of today to major Finnish companies that had been particularly successful in foreign trade. UPM grasped the opportunity and, in 2008, organised the first international invited architectural competition for a site in the new row of office buildings. At that stage, the city plan had to be followed to the letter.
The context of Töölönlahti is in a class of its own consisting, as it does, of a group of buildings from different periods: the National Museum, the Railway Station, the Parliament building and its annex, Finlandia Hall and Kiasma, all of which represent exceptionally powerful architecture. The UPM building was designed to fit in with these buildings, with no knowledge of what the new neighbours would be like, nor of the existence of the new central library. This is a very normal situation in urban planning.
UPM set top-class architecture as its first priority, both from a functional and an aesthetic point of view, but nevertheless within the limits of normally accepted, moderate costs. The long history of the company as a part of the core of Finland’s industrial and social development is based on these goals. The city plan gave little opportunity to maximise the use of wood, so the building is a combination of planning regulations and wood surfaces. Externally, the forms have abstract links with wood, the external cladding of the Bioforum – the gallery is a piece of tree stump – is in waney-edged boarding with a translucent white finish. The bridge over Alvar Aallon katu is chamfered like a polyhedron and clad with solid timber battens. Ecology and advanced energy saving are accomplished by the curved brises soleils in stainless steel netting, the same material as the screens used in paper-making. Timber is also used for the brises soleils over the windows. The floorboards used for the outside terraces are in UPM ProFi boarding.
The essential part of the elevation system is 60-mm-thick UPM plywood which forms the visible wooden window-frame structure. Plenty of mechanical wood-processing components are used in the interior. The visitors’ conference rooms and the corridor zone on the office floors have curved suspended ceilings made of UPM Grada plywood finished with ash veneer, while UPM laminated Wisa-Phon plywood is used for the sound-resistant wall construction to the visitors’ conference rooms.
Internally, the dominant element is the free-form atrium which intensifies communication and gives the building an essential part of its identity. The Bioforum, which is linked to the main entrance, is a lofty, conical space used for product and art exhibitions, and various small-scale events. The conference centre, on the entrance floor, surrounds the atrium so that visitors can be received in the lofty atrium’s well-lit café space
The work areas, planned for 450 UPM staff, are designed as open spaces, right up to management level. The things that are new and different here are the unconventional spaces for teamwork and conceptualising. The lifts serving the office floors open onto well-lit, polymorphic, common areas where informal meetings, teamwork and individual input can all take place. The teamwork areas, phone booths and conference rooms on the office floors provide alternative work spaces for various situations during the working day. The potential of the building is increased by a number of outdoor terraces that face west.
Project in brief
UPM head office BIOFORE HOUSE
- Location | Töölönlahti, Helsinki
- Purpose | Office
- Constructor/Client | UPM-Kymmene Oyj
- Volume | 75 100 m3
- Architectural Design | Helin & Co Architects
- Structural design | Sweco Rakennetekniikka (Finnmap Consulting Oy)
- Pääurakoitsija | YIT Rakennus Oy
- Photographs | Marc Goodwin, Martin Sommerschield, Mikael Linden and Helin & Co Architects
- Text | Pekka Helin and Mariitta Helineva