Dezeen Magazine

Alvar Aalto library renovation wins Finlandia Prize for Architecture 2017

The Finlandia Prize for Architecture 2017 was awarded for the overhaul of the Harald Herlin Learning Centre, which was originally designed by the Finnish modernist architect Alvar Aalto, along with several other buildings on the campus.

As part of the renovation, which was carried out in 2016 by architectsArchitects NRT Ltd  and interior architectsJKMM , elements of a traditional library have been retained but updated to suit the future-facing requirements of a science and technology university.


The team preserved the original Alvar Aalto interiors on the upper floor, making only minor cosmetic updates.

The mid-century design of the library stacks and reading areas has been retained, and the lower floors have been reorganised to incorporate spaces for new media, relaxation and collaborative working.

The winner was selected by Reijo Karhinen, President and CEO of Finnish financial services company OP Financial Group.

"The spirited and daring interior design of the ground floor, in particular, gives the building a futuristic and dynamic identity," Karhinen said in a statement.

"The view over the ground floor is a powerful experience – stunning colours, the tangible air of creativity and new learning as well as innovative design solutions raise the heartbeat with excitement," he added.

"The architects have shown the courage to genuinely question Aalto's thought in a most appropriate manner, by reconciling architectural beauty and diverse functional demands."

Brightly coloured fabrics and playful seating options aim to provide students with a modern and flexible place to work and socialise, while creating a visual link with the original 1970s aesthetic.

Padded seating units in red, orange and burgundy can be moved around on casters on the purple carpet to create informal places for students to work together.

Circular niches carved into the walls at different levels provide comfortable reading nooks for private study.Round white stools in corresponding sizes have been placed on the floor in front of the them, creating the illusion that they are formed from the cut out wall.

Held by the Finnish Association of Architects, the annual Finlandia Prize is awarded to a new building or redevelopment project from the past three years that has been either completed in Finland, or designed in another country by a Finnish architect.

The first prize was awarded in 2014 to Helsinki-based firm Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Architects for the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw.

The next year the prize went to an apartment complex in Kuokkala, which was one of the first high-rise examples of prefabricated cross-laminated timber construction in the world.

It's not the first time JKMM have worked with a piece of original Alvar Aalto design. In 2014 the practice designed a library in Seinäjoki to to complement Aalto's civic centre. Clad in copper and connected to the 1965 building by an underground tunnel, the project was a runner up for the 2014 Finlandia Prize.

Photography is by Tuomas Uusheimo.