About

Category
Office buildings
Architect
Alvar Aalto
Selections
Alvar Aalto’s Architecture Helsinki built through competitions
Tags
brick competition copper design furniture library stone
Gross area (m²)
22500
Competition
1948
Completion
1956

The Social Insurance Institution, also referred as National Pensions Institute, was founded by the Finnish government and started to operate in 1937. A decade later, in 1948, an architectural competition was held to design its headquarters on a site the size of an entire city block along Mannerheimintie street, facing the Töölönlahti Bay shoreline park. Aino and Alvar Aalto won the competition with their entry “Forum redivivum”. The scheme comprised, in addition to the main building, a fourteen-storey rental office tower and a concert hall with seating for 1,900 and a large restaurant. Pedestrians were separated from cars and heavy traffic onto different levels, laying out a series of large and small promenade decks, planted areas and Venetian staircases between the four or five large buildings called for in the plan.

Aalto was commissioned to develop this extensive plan further, and he worked on it until 1952, when problems with the site led to the decision to build on another site altogether, a much smaller, triangular site in further north in the Taka-Töölö district. None of the commercial and cultural buildings included in the initial plan as an investment for the pension funds capital could be fitted in, only the offices.

In order to avoid the oppressive feeling of a large office building in a crowded urban setting, Aalto differentiated the workplaces for over 800 employees into a ramified organism spread out in several seemingly individual building volumes with excellent internal communications both above and below ground. The complex forms an irregular U shape surrounding a raised, planted courtyard sheltered from traffic noise and exhaust gases and with a view of an adjacent park; the height of the building volumes is stepped down towards the park.

The complex comprises 310 rooms and 22,500 m2 of floor space. The general public has access only to the three storeys high customer service hall lit by three prism-shaped lantern skylights. The building’s tiny library room is of special interest. It is a miniature version of Aalto’s renowned early work, the Viipuri Library.

The façade materials are red brick, copper, and black granite. The building is distinguished throughout by workmanship and materials of high quality: all details are carefully studied and the interior design is exquisite, especially that of the management floor and the conference rooms. Aalto developed several new variants of his standard furniture for the Institute, a whole series of new light fittings, ceramic wall claddings, and a variety of textiles.

Work on the plans went on from 1953 to 1957; construction began in March 1954 and was completed two and a half years later.

Source: Alvar Aalto Foundation

Location

Nordenskiöldinkatu 12, Helsinki
60.1871861, 24.9176162

Images

Sketches by Alvar Aalto, Social Insurance Institution
Sketches by Alvar Aalto, Social Insurance Institution (© Alvar Aalto Museum)
After completion in 1957, Social Insurance Institution
After completion in 1957, Social Insurance Institution (© Heikki Havas / Alvar Aalto Museum)
Customer service hall with 28 interview cubicles in 1957, Social Insurance Institution
Customer service hall with 28 interview cubicles in 1957, Social Insurance Institution (© Heikki Havas / Alvar Aalto Museum)
Conference room in 1957, Social Insurance Institution
Conference room in 1957, Social Insurance Institution (© Heikki Havas / Alvar Aalto Museum)
Courtyard side in 1997, Social Insurance Institution
Courtyard side in 1997, Social Insurance Institution (© Maija Holma / Alvar Aalto Museum)
Lamp post in 1997, Social Insurance Institution
Lamp post in 1997, Social Insurance Institution (© Maija Holma / Alvar Aalto Museum)
Staff restaurant in 1997, Social Insurance Institution
Staff restaurant in 1997, Social Insurance Institution (© Maija Holma / Alvar Aalto Museum)
Library detail, photo from 1997, Social Insurance Institution
Library detail, photo from 1997, Social Insurance Institution (© Maija Holma / Alvar Aalto Museum)
Preserved cubicle in 1997, Social Insurance Institution
Preserved cubicle in 1997, Social Insurance Institution (© Maija Holma / Alvar Aalto Museum)
Detail of railing in 1997, Social Insurance Institution
Detail of railing in 1997, Social Insurance Institution (© Maija Holma / Alvar Aalto Museum)
Ceramic tiles and railing in 1997, Social Insurance Institution
Ceramic tiles and railing in 1997, Social Insurance Institution (© Maija Holma / Alvar Aalto Museum)
Competition scale model for the original site on Mannerheimintie street, 1948, Social Insurance Institution
Competition scale model for the original site on Mannerheimintie street, 1948, Social Insurance Institution (© Alvar Aalto Museum)
Competition entry
Competition entry "Forum redivivum", ground floor plan, 1948, Social Insurance Institution (© Alvar Aalto Museum)
Competition entry
Competition entry "Forum redivivum", 13th floor plan, 1948, Social Insurance Institution (© Alvar Aalto Museum)

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