Synthesis, Otaniemi Campus

Design team: 
Arch Paolo Mossa Idra, Arch Valeria Moscardin
Arch Federico Bistolfi
Aalto University

The project is based on the will to create a new contact point between the various buildings located within the huge area of Otaniemi, dedicated to education and technological research activities. In fact, facilities and public zones designed act as the glue between the different spatial and architectural realities existing all over the entire area: from the formal and compositional point of view, the project is clearly different from the existing situation, but, at the same time, it provides to absorb and bind the differences, giving rise to a new university’s identity as part of the Otaniemi science and arts community.


 “Synthesis is therefore the pseudonym chosen to emphasize the spatial, material and visual integration between new and existing structures, underlying design decisions. But the “synthesis” is also the founding idea of the conceptual apparatus of Alvar Aalto, the clear reference for the project. The reserch for a match between the tension nature-architecture, the combination of the principles of classicism and rationalism, and the fusion between the opposing demands of a universalist and regionalist vision, are all concepts introjected into the solutions adopted.


The idea behind the project is the identification of a new square that occupies the physical centre of the area. The goal is to create a new reference point as an impressive landmark, which works as an attraction pole and a “community’s mental core” for the overall Campus.

The genesis of this space comes from considerations about the landscape in which the project is included. In fact, it was decided to refer to the environmental shape of Finland: the region of the coast, rather low and jagged, dotted by numerous small islands, represts the referential frame for the modeling of the designed structures. The new hill, with a soft and limited altitude, embraces the project area, welding together existing buildings and incorporating the natural surroundings. But the compositional definition of the spaces is allocated to a mathematical, rigorous and rational model, the so-called “Voronoi Diagram”. This is a scheme of decomposition of a two-dimensional plane, on the basis of distance criteria: given a finite set of points, the plane is divided by associating a points region (called “Voronoi cell”) to each element of the set, in such a way that all the points of the region are closer to the finite set than to any other point in the plane. The choice of this type of mathematical analysis is linked to research and learning activities that characterize the New Campus of Helsinki: this diagram, in fact, has practical applications in various fields of knowledge and especially in the field of urban planning, design, information systems and technology.

Also in this case, the use of a synthetic process is evident: the logic and formal suggestion of Voronoi diagram is combined with the will to integrate the new buildings with the surrounding landscape, thus combining rationality and naturality.

The overlap between these two antithetical forces, combined with the removal and balanced relationship of volumes and masses that become paths and open spaces, gives rise to buildings designed for the New Campus.

The spaces for the required functions are situated below the artificial hill, green covered and entirely practicable. The new Departments overlook the central square that provides a visual reference to the Auditorium and buildings designed by Aalto. Departments buildings are characterized by a particular structure with arcades, in direct contact with the central square, and the presence of a hall as a filter between community environments and quiet spaces, designed to learning and working. In this way, recalling Aalto's architectural ideas, outer spaces are transformed into internal ones, and vice versa. So they create a gradual and progressive passage between the private and public, which finds its culmination in the great central space capable of supporting the interaction between the various disciplines and provides the appropriate conditions for study and research of art, architecture, media and design.

Also the "islet" of the Restaurant, the Cafe-Shared Loungeand the bikes storage overlook the large central open area. As already said, this is a highly attraction area which acts as a hinge for all designed spaces. Other open spaces are connected to it (thanks also to the design of the pavement): they perform their task of attraction, forming an inspiring environment for studying, teaching, work, and spare time. In this way, the spaces are functional not only for the Campus but also for the entire urban district, encouraging exchanges between the university’s microcosm and the rest of the city. These links are furthermore guaranteed by the Metro Stop, located in a strategic position. In order to maximize the sustainable mobility, the vehicular traffic is kept at the edge of the project area: the Stop is associated with a drop-off area and public transport services to reduce the flow of vehicles, and car parking are completely underground; pedestrian movements are predominant, as well as bicycle lanes.

The building of the underground station can be seen as the benchmark for the main entrance in the New Campus area: it represents a visual milestone for the impressive Lime Tree Passage, the path with a great historical and aesthetical value. Beyond the rows of trees and next to the Metro Stop, there is a sort of funnel-shaped square which leads to the large principal central space.

Even to the point of view of composition and structure, the new buildings represent a synthesis between the dictates of Nordic Classicism and principles of organic plasticity, which is found in Aalto's architecture. The reference to the works of the Finnish Architect is also present in some structural and stylistic devices, such as the use of brick combined with large glazed surfaces, the will to link to the building with the context in which it is inserted, the ability to combine different volumes and to give materiality to the spaces through the light, especially the zenithal one (the proposed rooflights are a reinterpretation of those designed by Aalto; they represent also a direct reference to the pattern used for the paving).

In conclusion, it can be said that the "synthesis" implemented between open spaces, green areas, public and private buildings is the key point of the entire project. It promotes a vision of organic and non-hierarchical activities and refers to the idea of a vital, dynamic, technological and environmentally sustainable “universitary city of the future”.