Finland introduced legislation in 1965 aimed at the development of higher education, which resulted in the founding of new universities and consequently the rapid growth in the number of students. The new universities, aiming to respond to the challenge of growing student numbers and new academic disciplines, were in the 1960s among the most interesting sites for architectural experimentation. These megastructures, designed on the principle of continuous expansion, provided an opportunity to examine and question not only the relationship between architecture and urban planning but also the role of the architect in the design process.
The first project to be realised under the new development legislation was the University of Oulu. The architectural competition for the University of Oulu, which also was the first Finnish government organized open Nordic architectural competition, was held in two stages in 1967-1968. The competition brief called for a function and form for the relatively new university that was undergoing expansion and searching for an identity. The competition was won by architect Kari Virta and his design team.
Virta perceived the university as an organism, as something that is constantly growing and where changes are continuously taking place. The design of the university complex comprised of a clear central passage into which opened the lecture halls, shops, restaurants and lounges. The starting point was to create within the university complex an optimally vibrant social milieu, because the campus was located far from the Oulu city centre, and the majority of the students lived on the campus. Also part of the student housing was placed in the very centre of the university campus.
The implementation made use of a relatively small number of structurally highly standardized building types, with an internal room layout that could be as free as possible and very flexible. By continuing and building more of these building types, the faculties and departments could be continuously expanded. Typical for the first building phases were bright colours which contrasted with the concrete surfaces as well as large super graphics to facilitate orientation within the megastructure.
The university’s Linnanmaa campus is divided into eleven projects, which were realized in stages. The campus was in its entirety designed by the same architectural firm, Kari Virta Architects (later Virta-Palaste-Leinonen Architects). Stages 1-4 were built during the 1970s, mainly for the faculties of technology and natural sciences. After the initial swift start, building construction slowed down, and building stages 5-7 were built in the late 1980s and early 1990s for the faculties of natural sciences, humanities and education as well as the main library. The university’s main building was completed at the southern end of the campus in 1998, and information technology buildings were built adjacent to the administration building in the 2000s.
University of Oulu Linnanmaa Campus is listed on the DOCOMOMO Finland registered selection of important architectural and environmental modernist sites.
Text: Juha Vuorinen / DOCOMOMO Finland