The Social Insurance Institution 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, National Pensions Institute on a site the size of an entire city block along Mannerheimintie street, facing the Töölönlahti Bay shoreline park. Aino Marsio-Aalto 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.
The Aaltos were commissioned to develop this extensive plan further. After Aino Marsio-Aaltos death in 1949, Alvar Aalto continued to work on it with architect Elsa Mäkiniemi (after marriage in 1952 Elissa Aalto). In 1952 the 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, the Aaltos 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 office’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. Several new variants of the standard furniture by the Aaltos’ office were developed 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. National Pensions Institute is listed on the DOCOMOMO Finland registered selection of important architectural and environmental modernist sites.
Source: Alvar Aalto Foundation