The story of Think Corner

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How did it all get started?

In 2012, the University of Helsinki took part in Helsinki’s year as the World Design Capital. As part of the Design Capital festivities, the University launched its first Think Corner on Aleksanterinkatu with the intention of bringing research, researchers and the University’s design projects to the street level, to make them accessible to the University’s stakeholders and to the general public.

The first year was a resounding success, with the facilities hosting more than 700 presentations and over 400 workshops on various academic and scientific topics. The space, with its large windows, energised the corner of Aleksanterinkatu and Fabianinkatu and drew 300 to 500 visitors daily. The positive feedback for the original Think Corner spurred the University to decide to continue the project after the World Design Capital year. However, the University’s space on Aleksanterinkatu had to be renovated, and Think Corner moved to the Porthania building in June 2013. After the renovation on Aleksanterinkatu was completed, Think Corner moved back in April 2015 to be the showcase for the University’s 375th anniversary celebrations. The anniversary year brought about the idea of a bigger Think Corner, as the space had been deemed too small for all the activities it hosted.

Building a new Think Corner

The University’s Administration Building at Yliopistonkatu 4 had reached the end of its useful life and was going to be comprehensively renovated. At the same time, the University wanted to change the facility from an office building into the new Think Corner. The renovation was carried out as alliance contracting. The architect for the project was JKMM Arkkitehdit.  The primary contractor was SRV Group. The renovation began in February 2016 and was completed in autumn 2017.

Built in the 1970s, the Administration Building was a fairly typical example of that time’s official, nondescript administrative architecture. It was originally designed to be an office building, and featured many visual elements which were typical of the 1970s. The building also reflected a 1970s understanding of what a workspace must be as well as the nature and hierarchy of the academic world. The spaces did not support the open philosophy of the modern University of Helsinki. The building itself as well as the units housed in it were isolated behind thick walls.  The founding design principle for the new Think Corner was to use large windows to open the street level to the surrounding city. The windows let passers-by see inside Think Corner and invite them to come in.

We used a service design process to plan the service concept of Think Corner, as it provided a systematic, interactive and agile model and tools for service development. The concept for the new Think Corner was created through interaction, in which we involved the University community as well as various stakeholder groups such as alumni, decision-makers and the people of Helsinki. For this process, the co-creation meant daring to put ourselves in the shoes of our visitors and bring them to sit at the same table with us. Surveying the needs, wishes and even dreams of the users of the new Think Corner was one of the central goals of the development project.