EduCity, the newest addition to Turku Science Park combines a higher-education campus and the needs of business life. Architect Pekka Mäki from Sigge Architects and Vesa Taatila, Rector and President of Turku University of Applied Sciences share their views on the project.
EduCity can be found next door to the Kupittaa railway station at the Turku Science Park which is undergoing rapid development at the moment. How does the new building integrate into its setting characterised by such a high degree of diversity, architect PEKKA MÄKI?
The existing buildings within the Science Park represent a range of different architectural styles and periods and form a very interesting ensemble when viewed together. EduCity links into the ICT building next door via a bridge, while also creating a direct connection with “Ströget”, the campus’s pedestrian main street. The overall concept is based on a proposal we submitted to the invited competition which ran back in 2012. Our idea here was to create four terraced buildings that sweep upwards from the centre, and EduCity represents phase one of this plan. We’re currently in the process of designing another building with a very similar feel for the opposite side of the atrium, but the land that was originally set aside for the remaining two buildings has already been developed and is now home to a private hospital with fairly straightforward massing, so in that sense the end result will differ from the original vision.
In EduCity, traditional classrooms have been replaced by open learning environments. What strategies have you adopted to ensure that students will continue to have opportunities for quiet working?
We wanted to build learning environments for the future, including some that would be open plan and others that are more traditional and enclosed. The spaces we ultimately created are all highly adaptable and feature operable walls and curtains that can be used to make them bigger and smaller depending on what’s needed. All the spaces intended for quiet working have been fitted with glass walls, while the co-working cafes are located in out-of-the-way areas, close to roof terraces.
How did you incorporate sustainability into the design process?
We set out to achieve LEED Platinum certification, the highest level of certification available. The rating is calculated using a number of different features: this building has green roofs, for example, and heating is provided by solar panels and geothermal energy. Also, the building itself is used for higher education purposes. For example, the ventilation plant room is bigger than it otherwise would be.
The building envelopes a spacious central atrium with a large skylight. Could you tell us something about the architectural solutions in this space?
The atrium actually dates back to the Science Park detailed plan. We opted to use silk screen printed glass for the skylight to control the amount of light entering the space. The office and learning spaces open out into the atrium, and the wooden features, or “dice”, that project into the space create an engaging and visually interesting finish. The dice are built with the building’s acoustics in mind and are designed to reduce the echo here. The Stairway of Skills descend from the foyer into the building’s restaurant.
Materials clearly play a significant role here. How did you go about choosing them?
From the outset, the client was looking for a concrete building. We created a design featuring a raised square pattern on the facade, which is what the seemingly random window placement takes its cue from. Following a decision by the city council, we had to change the facade material and opted for the handmade Kolumba tiles, which link EduCity with the brick-built DataCity building next door. The Kolumba tiles were originally created for the Kolumba Museum in Cologne by the architect Peter Zumthor. The brickwork finish allows for an interesting and nuanced articulation. The plant room is clad in an aluminium-magnesium alloy which creates a brilliant visual link with the ICT-City building next door.
We wanted to create a look that would blend academia with a more industrial feel. The finishes are robust and, internally, the concrete is visible as a structural and aesthetic element. The slatted timber walls create a softer, Nordic feel and the colourful floors and textiles add a sense of joy.
There is a lot of art on display throughout the building. How did you plan for this during the design phase?
Ensuring that art is incorporated into the design has always been a fundamental aspect of the EduCity project as well as other Turun Teknologiakiinteistöt developments. During the design and implementation phase, we gave careful consideration to how and where art might be displayed here, and we ran an arts competition during the building phase. Our priority was to ensure that art was fully integrated both internally and externally.
VESA TAATILA, Rector and President of Turku University of Applied Sciences, why was the new campus building needed?
We needed a new building that would reflect the way research, development and innovation are carried out these days. Higher education today is focused on creating student-centred communities and promoting flexible learning opportunities in favour of more traditional teacher-led and classroom-based activities. Our RDI activity has really taken off, and we needed laboratory facilities to match that.
How would you describe the results?
So far, EduCity has been a brilliant success. It offers a range of flexible communal spaces that allow us to deliver new types of activities, and the decision to make the laboratory spaces on the first floor visible to visitors has generated a lot of interest for what goes on inside them. We’re delighted that the development was delivered on budget and on schedule too.
How well does the building work for everyone now that you have moved in, and has the Covid-19 pandemic had an impact on how it’s used at all?
We have had a brilliant start so far. Our staff and students have really embraced the new opportunities the building offers. Students from other universities have also used our facilities while teaching has been offered online. I think that speaks volumes about how welcoming, flexible and fit for purpose EduCity is.
The main impact from the pandemic has been that we’ve not been able to put the building through its paces properly yet. We all look forward to seeing how it will work when we’re running at capacity in terms of both staff and student numbers. We’ve been delighted to note, however, that there’s an area where the building has done incredibly well already. In recent years, we’ve made a conscious decision to expand our online offering and to that end, we’ve created a series of new online teaching rooms at EduCity. During the pandemic, these spaces have become even more valuable than we could ever have anticipated, and they’ve received praise from staff and students alike. ↙