Aalto University, located in Helsinki, Finland, is a powerhouse in arts, design, and architecture education. The university represents a deep fusion of the historical and the modern, both in terms of its physical makeup and underlying educational philosophy. The institution is a product of the merger of three significant Finnish universities, offering its students a wealth of knowledge and experience rooted in over a century of Finnish educational traditions.
Formation of Aalto University
Aalto University was established in 2010 as an innovative institution, fusing together three previously independent universities: the University of Art and Design Helsinki (established 1971), the Helsinki University of Technology (established 1949), and the Helsinki School of Economics (established 1904). This fusion was designed to promote interdisciplinary study and innovation, bridging the traditional boundaries between disciplines.
Historical Roots of the School of Arts, Design and Architecture
Today’s Aalto University’s School of Arts, Design and Architecture is traced back to the School of Arts and Crafts, established in 1871. The school underwent several transformations over the decades, being renamed the Central School of Industrial Arts in 1885. Located in the prominent Ateneum building by Theodor Höijer in Rautatientori Square in the city centre, the school and its successors operated there until 1986. Post World War II, the Central School was renamed the Institute of Industrial Arts Helsinki in 1949. Later, in 1973, it became the University of Industrial Arts Helsinki (UIAH).
Relocation and Expansion
In 1986, the school moved to Arabianranta, the Arabia ceramic factory estate site. Over time, the School of Arts, Design and Architecture managed to unite many departments in a cluster at this location. Notably, it was here that an audio-visual department was established within the Helsinki ‘Virtual Village’, close to the audio-visual company Sonera and IBM, the latter commissioned by the city of Helsinki to create a ‘smart’ communications urban infrastructure. This set-up offered new possibilities for collaboration between creative endeavours and industry.
The Architecture Department and the Otaniemi Campus
The Architecture Department, initially part of the Helsinki University of Technology, is now based on the Otaniemi Campus, a masterpiece designed by the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. The campus, approximately 6 miles from the city centre, is a living testament to the architectural prowess taught at Aalto University.
Global Reach and Impact
Aalto University’s School of Arts, Design and Architecture has grown to become the Nordic countries’ largest provider of design education, offering degrees from undergraduate to doctoral levels. The school has established approximately 200 memoranda of cooperation with European and overseas universities. Its alumni include many leading figures of Finnish design including Tapio Wirkkala, Timo Sarpaneva, Kaj Franck, and Antii Nurmesniemi.
Aalto University upholds its deep-rooted traditions while forging ahead with innovative collaborations and teaching methods, bridging history and modernity in a unique educational experience. It is an exemplary model of successfully merging tradition and innovation in higher education.