The vision was to convert an administrative building, centrally located between the University of Helsinki’s Porthania building and the architecturally and historically significant Main Building, into a functional, new element to unify the city campus. The administrative building, which had an unwelcoming appearance and a complicated layout, was to be developed into an open Think Corner to inspire encounters and collaboration between the academic community, its various stakeholders and city residents.
An architectural competition was organised for the design of the University of Helsinki’s new Think Corner in 2015. The core of JKMM’s winning design is openness, multipurpose spaces and a holistic experience. The entire ground floor of the new Think Corner has large glass surfaces that open out onto views of the surrounding streets, just like the neighbouring commercial spaces in the pedestrian shopping area of the city centre. The interiors serve as the university’s new display window and form the campus centre. The Think Corner tempts you to step inside and spend time exploring the interesting things it has to offer. The openings in the ceiling of the ground floor give visitors a view of the outdoors and allow natural light to filter in to the lower levels. The new main entrances face out towards Porthania and the Main Building, which creates a natural flow of traffic through the building. The building’s openness and flexibility of use are complemented by a new, separate entrance on the street corner. The former inner courtyard was covered, turning it into today’s free-form event space for encounters, working and learning.
The Think Corner’s first floor is suitable for work and teamwork that require a more peaceful environment. A natural layering of zones emerges throughout the entire structure of the building, going from an active centre towards quieter outlying areas. The spacious openings and the new stairways connect the Think Corner’s three storeys and the exercise centre in the basement into a clearly articulated whole. All the spaces have been designed to be as clear and comprehensive as possible to allow for changing themes and functions and to create spaces that bring people together and support collaboration.
Office floors 2-5 are designed to be a multipurpose environment where various zones enable different modes of work. The meeting rooms are grouped around the main staircase.
One of the more important goals of the architecture was to create a relaxed, comfort-exuding space that tempts people to step inside and feel at ease. Naturally, the choice of materials plays a key role: the decision was made to use extensive amounts of wood surfaces to provide a warm feeling. The expansive wood surfaces bring warmth and a human feel to the spaces of varying scale. The wood is ordinary Finnish pine.
The floors are made from wooden blocks set on their ends. The idea is reminiscent of a shop floor resistant to heavy use, but one that lives and gains a delightful patina over the years. The wooden blocks are glued to underlying plywood attached to the concrete floor and are surface-treated with colourless oil.
The wall and ceiling claddings use rough-edged pine slats, and have a similar natural roughness, although attention has been paid to giving the surface a peaceful look overall. The wood slats have been cut along the radius to reveal a clear grain pattern on the visible surface. The slats and their unfinished surfaces were prefabricated at the factory as elements and then fitted on-site to the various interior surfaces, including over doors and shutters. The uniform slat surface also covers the wiring and other technical and acoustic solutions. This means that the visual appearance of the spaces will remain restful even if the spaces are rearranged and given new purposes over time.
Wood was also used outside in the entrance recesses and on the wide stairs leading to the main doors. The hope is that this creates a welcoming meeting and gathering place in the middle of the university campus. The rough, timber-framed clean-cast concrete surfaces form a balanced pair with the wood, complementing the firmly rooted material palate of the building. The mostly wooden furniture was designed to be functional, easy to move and to form a whole. They are movable and allow for a variety of events to be organised.
The new Think Corner is set to become part of the traditional University of Helsinki campus, which in many minds is embodied by the university Main Building and Porthania. The Think Corner was completed in the autumn of 2017 and adds a new element with a clear, strong identity that represents our era.
Project in brief
Think Corner, University of Helsinki
- Location | Helsinki
- Purpose | University of Helsinki Meetingpoint
- Constructor/Client | University of Helsinki
- Architectural Design | JKMM Architects
- Structural design | Sweco Rakennetekniikka Oy
- Contractor | SRV Rakennus Oy
- Interior design | JKMM Architects
- Electrical design | Granlund Oy
- HVAC design | Insinööritoimisto Leo Maaskola Oy
- Year completed | 2017
- Photographs | Tuomas Uusheimo
- Text | JKMM