Alvar Aalto University


Otaniemi is a mythical name. Alvar Aalto, designed two buildings―the Library and the School of Architecture―that rank today among the most impressive of the XX century. Geographically, Otaniemi is a peninsula. Yet, 50 years of relentless institutional building has transformed it into an architectural archipelago made up of 26 groups of buildings, each with its own alignment. Like most archipelagos, it does not have a center or a centrally located space that serves as a social meeting place for the various communities on the peninsula. In 2010 a decision was made to alter this by setting a competition aiming to 'find new concepts and create a lively and interactive environment for research and learning activities for the whole Otaniemi community.’ The Otaniemi Master is derived from the gestalt figure of the archipelago at both an urban and a building scale. Instead of thinking about a building as the program suggested, the project proposes an infrastructure, with an internal/external logic that can respond to the uses of the competition program without being invasive.


According to the competition brief, the area was to become the new ‘heart of the entire peninsula.’ The project rejects this notion which goes against ‘what was called for:’ namely a stage from which to look at Aalto’s buildings and a ‘green break’ that could attract everyone using the campus: a large, green central park that has enough meeting places—restaurants, bars, exhibition spaces—to become the unconscious and quasi-undefined heart of the campus. Accordingly, the architecture of the new campus disappears. It is found, almost by surprise, below the ground-line. The architecture is discovered slowly. The various entry points are often ramps that go down into courtyards or greenhouses. Once inside, one can perceive the vastness of the infrastructure—a buried landscape ordered by major visual axes in which transparent 'glass ends' make it possible to perceive the distances to be traversed, making the end of the journey—the promenade—more enticing. The end result of the proposal unveiled an unexpected, unplanned dichotomy: the strong contrast between the infrastructure’s axial monumentality with the absence of axial alignment of the open space above.


The Otaniemi Master Plan is a project of sections and of counterweights between the core and the envelope. It is a project in which there is a complex negotiation between the interior and the exterior that is structural in talking about architecture. It is like the Pantheon, in which, in spite of its imposing building mass, the real monumentality is expressed on the inside. The (distracted) visitor to Otaniemi is assailed by an imposing, hidden or buried monumentality that offers no clue of itself to the outside world.


The building is an urban infrastructure of concrete technology. The hidden school is based on regular grid of post and beams (6x6 meters). The two emerging structure extend the same logic to the outside.

LocationHelsinki, Finland
Use: Education, Mixed-Use
Client:City of Berlin
Status:Competition Entry, April 2012
Design Team:

conrad-bercah, valerio paolo mosco, Petar Stelkic, Alberto Clerici, Pietro Bologna, Celina Labanca (architectural) Giancarlo Daleffe (structural) Flavio Ranica (mechanical) Andrea Angeli (graphic) Stefano Bacciocchi (render) Fram Lab (model)