The extensive renovation of the Main Building of the University of Helsinki has concluded, and the redesigned facilities were opened to members of the University community for the beginning of the new academic year. The listed building houses modern teaching and learning facilities, office space, a number of event facilities, a museum as well as two cafeterias and a café.
The renovation was carried out from 2019 to 2023, beginning with the refurbishment, from 2019 to 2021, of the old side facing Senate Square, originally completed in 1832 and designed by architect C.L. Engel. In the second stage of the renovation, from 2021 to 2023, the focus was on the Fabianinkatu side of the building, originally completed in 1937 and designed by J.S. Sirén. The previous renovation was carried out in the 1990s.
Director of Properties Jaana Ihalainen is happy with the stages and outcome of the renovation:
“We achieved the major goals set for the project. Considering the crises, instabilities and rising prices that coincided with the project, this was a real success,” Ihalainen sums up, praising all of the project operators.
The renovation was carried out as a project alliance, with the University of Helsinki Funds, YIT Suomi Oy and Jeskanen-Repo-Teränne Arkkitehdit Oy as the partners. The main contractor was YIT.
Accessibility of facilities improved
During the renovation, particular attention was paid to the accessibility and indoor air of the facilities as well as to improving safety.
According to Campus Architect Ulla Seppä, the biggest improvement in the usability of the building was that of accessibility. An entirely new lift that reaches up to the fifth floor and complies with accessibility requirements has been built in the new side of the building. In the first stage of the renovation, another lift was also installed in the side facing Senate Square, which previously lacked any such amenity.
“We also added stair lifts to several facilities and redesigned the doors of teaching facilities to make doorways and thresholds more accessible. In teaching and meeting facilities with audio equipment, we installed induction loops for people who use hearing aids,” Seppä says.
Learning and teaching facilities updated
The teaching facilities in the Main Building have been redesigned, in close cooperation with members of the University community, to better meet the current and future needs of teaching and learning.
The Oppimistori Studium (‘Learning Plaza Studium’) venue on the third floor of the Fabianinkatu side represents a new kind of teaching facility. Previously, the space served as a library and the exhibition space of the Helsinki University Museum.
“The space comprises a set of teaching facilities, from whose shared central space groups can be divided into smaller separate facilities during a single event,” Seppä says.
The AV equipment has also been replaced, taking into consideration events requiring remote connections. In addition, electrical outlets have been added not only to standard lecture rooms, but also to the benches in the large lecture room.
Students have gained more facilities for independent study and groupwork in the building, as well as a redesigned event space on the first floor.
Services and experiences
One of the most significant redesigns at the Main Building is the covering of the southern courtyard. Now known as Agora, the courtyard connects the two sides of the building, and includes an accessible entrance.
“Constructing the covered courtyard was technically challenging, but I’m pleased that it was included in the project. Agora provides us with a pleasant place for relaxation, as well as serving as an extension to the cafeteria and café. I believe it will become a favourite spot among members of the University community in the Main Building,” Ihalainen says.
Helsinki University Museum Flame, formerly the Helsinki University Museum, will open its doors to visitors on 10 October 2023. Director of Properties Ihalainen considers it one of the notable successes of the renovation project that a suitable location for the evolving museum was found on the first floor of the building, and that the special conditions required by museum operations were successfully realised.
Museum Director Miia-Leena Tiili is also happy with the museum facilities.
“The needs of the museum and the special characteristics of its operations were taken into consideration exceptionally well in the project. The street-level location draws you closer to take a peek at the exhibitions. We are particularly happy about the space reserved for temporary thematic exhibitions, where new things will be seen in the autumn and winter.”
Director of Facilities and Properties Marita Rovamo hopes that the facilities in the Main Building will have a high utilisation rate and serve all operations. The University of Helsinki rents facilities for short-term use to businesses, scholarly communities, public and non-profit organisations as well as associations and non-governmental organisations.
“Now that the facilities have been renovated, I believe they will increasingly attract other activities as well. Conferences, concerts and other events are very welcome in the Main Building. In the Main Building, you can admire the historical building while enjoying modern technical solutions and services,” Rovamo notes.