Published in 4/2020 - Empathy


Floating Layers

Kuva: Kuvatoimisto Kuvio

A sports hall had long been on the wish list for the Arcada University of Applied Sciences’ campus in Kyläsaari, Helsinki, but the high cost for the construction of foundations stood in the way. Now the hall floats, suspended atop a five-storey apartment building.

Architect STEFAN AHLMAN, why place a sports hall specifically atop the apartments?

Calculations showed that the cost of the foundations for the sports hall built on clay and rocky soil would be expensive. We explored a wide variety of different combinations, foundation methods, and locations. First, I sketched a design for positioning the hall below and the apartments above. Together with the structural engineer, however, we realised that because of the span of the hall, the building would work better the other way around.

Photo: Kuvatoimisto Kuvio

Ahlman Architects / Stefan Ahlman, Viivi Snellman, Martin French, Marcus Ahlman
Location Kyläsaarenkuja 6, Helsinki
Gross Area 7 080 m2
Completion 2019

More photos and drawings of the project 
What was it like working with the urban scale and adapting the building to its surroundings?

Arcadahallen is set in a prominent location. Once the decision to build it was made, the authorities expressed one wish: that it must have a very striking appearance. We felt certain vistas were important. The wedge-shaped building is kind of like a ship’s bow sitting in the urban structure – the first thing you notice in the new city district. It is narrow and graceful towards the park, while growing close to its other side is the compact city. Our office has also designed the DIAK University of Applied Sciences in the same block – the arched form of Arcadahallen is a continuation of the arch of its courtyard.

It seems that various hybrid buildings are becoming more common as cities condense: a park on the roof of a shopping centre, and a sports hall on top of a student dormitory. What kind of hybrids would you like to design in the future?

Hybrids are talked about as if they were something new. However, we don’t have to go very far back in time when, for example, industry overlapped with other urban activities. The idea behind existing hybrid buildings is partly related to high-rise construction. I would, nevertheless, like to see more good examples before I state unconditionally that it’s a good idea. It’s not good for hybrids to grow excessively large.

Hybrid buildings are also characterised by the possibilities of diverse communality. In Arcadahallen, we have brought housing down to the ground level so that the residents can enter the park directly from their apartments. While this may sound naive, I think architects should think of people as a community and create a framework for its life. One must identify with the space and find out what the community wants.

Photo: Kuvatoimisto Kuvio
What kind of feelings would you like Arcadahallen to evoke?

Of key importance is that the building doesn’t exclude or assault people. From an urban point of view, it’s important to be able to walk past it and run into the park to enjoy the freedom. It has no front or back – it’s a solid object. The surface and structure of the building create a teddy-bear-like furry atmosphere. The facade is somewhat coarse, but not crude.

Inside, the atmosphere is created by numerous different things. Central to student housing is that it feels safe and affordable. Light is a free gift from nature that can be used to make architecture without cost. We have utilised the light in the stairwell and the glazed end of the sports hall. There is nothing so wonderful as the play of light and shadow. Someone once said that Arcadahallen resembles an old separator factory. Maybe there’s a hint of industrial flavour.

Rector MONA FORSSKÅHL, what does Arcadahallen bring to Arcada University of Applied Sciences?

Initially, there was a need for the hall due to our sports instructor degree programme. After that, we started thinking also about how to respond to any other ambitions. The new hall will serve various sports, from futsal to badminton. There is also a test laboratory for the use of physiotherapy students. The gym, on the other hand, can be used by both outside students and those living in the apartment building. Furthermore, we cooperate with sports clubs, and they can rent the facilities.

The sports hall has been in use since last year. What kind of feedback have you received?

There has been positive feedback from Arcada community. The stairwell, though, is a bit cramped, and now, in these times of the corona pandemic, keeping a distance when entering the facility has been challenging. Clubs outside the educational programmes have been satisfied.

The new Arcadahallen is located in a very important spot in the cityscape. What is the significance of such visibility for an education institution?

Visibility is, of course, nice, but good transport connections are even more important. I believe that the adjoining Arabianranta area with its many campuses will become an even more important hub of activities in the future. We’re also looking for solutions to make the gym more accessible to young people. With Arcadahallen, we also have the opportunity to offer services to the people of Helsinki. ↙