University of Helsinki, spatial development

Work and learning environment development


University of Helsinki


15 properties
over 50 000 m2
thousands of users
2019 – ongoing

What we did

Work environments
Learning environments
Interior design
Architectural design
Principle design



The University of Helsinki is an academic community devoted to science, learning, and brave thinking. The university spans numerous buildings of varying kinds, located in central Helsinki and the Kumpula, Meilahti and Viikki suburbs. The premises are developed in close collaboration with their active users. Between 2019 and 2021, we created several development plans for the university’s work and learning environments. The goal of the development processes is to help create spaces that better serve the needs of the student and researcher communities. The development plans affect 15 properties, four faculties, and 10,000 students.

The numerous disciplines and their spatial needs were analyzed and considered equally in the development projects. They also offer solutions for facilitating encounters and cross-sectional communication, reviewing space usage, and supporting the full spectrum of academic work. New solutions were co-developed with university staff and students. Building-specific work and learning environment concepts were created based on the development work. The concept designs have helped the university’s spatial strategy decision-making. They also serve as planning and design guides in future planning implementation and construction.

Some development projects, such as the Kumpula campus lobby and learning environment development, proceeded to implementation planning. We served as principal designer, architect, and interior architect in this pilot project.

15 properties / Four faculties & more / thousands of users

Faculty of Social Sciences

  • Work environment development
  • 500 staff members / 4,000 students
  • Properties: Unioninkatu 35 and 37, Snellmaninkatu 14

Faculty of Arts

  • Work environment development
  • 700 staff members / 8,000 students
  • Properties: Metsätalo, Topelia

Faculty of Educational Sciences

  • Work and learning environment development
  • 550 staff members / 2,000 students
  • Properties: Vanha Minerva, Uusi Minerva,
    Vanha Psychologicum, Uusi Psychologicum,

Faculty of Science

  • Learning environment development
  • 1,000 staff members / 5,000 students
  • Properties: Chemicum, Exactum, Physicum

Natural History Museum Luomus

  • Work environment development
  • 130 staff members
  • Property: Pohjoinen Rautatienkatu 13

Helsinki University main library in the Kaisa House

  • Work environment development
  • 140 staff members
  • Property: Kaisa-talo

The development projects produced several work and learning environment concepts, each tailored for one of the 15 properties on the City Central and Kumpula campuses. The development affects over 1,000 staff members and 10,000 students.


Steering groups were established for each development project. The close collaboration helped the progression of the vast projects within the agreed timeframe.

In large-scale projects, faculty-specific workspace committees were involved in the decision-making. The workspace committees provided opinions of larger user groups across disciplines.


We organized online group interviews for each development project. The interviews provided quantitative and qualitative data. This helped us understand the needs and work methods of faculties and disciplines.

The interview groups included representatives from all academic ranks; professors, lecturers, teachers, researchers, students, and other staff. The interview platforms used were Teams, Zoom, Flinga, and Typeform. Pre-pandemic interviews were held in person.


Work and learning environment workshops were organized with some of the largest faculties. They were held online (Flinga or Miro) and in person.

The workshops allowed users to brainstorm the benefits and challenges of various solutions. Ideal space usage was widely discussed. The workshops were considered inspiring and a great way of examining different spatial solutions.


We held dozens of open info sessions for the development projects. Here we presented the different stages of the spatial planning process. User feedback provided during and after the info sessions was considered in further planning stages.

The info sessions were organized online and proved very popular. They also supported the university’s change management communication.


We created several spatial layouts for each development project. The potential of the alternatives was discussed and analyzed together with the steering groups and workspace committees.

With the help of functional zoning and furniture layouts, we analyzed space usage from the perspective of the university’s property management department. In large-scale projects, property clusters were created – the renovation and spatial updates were phased out with the help of concept planning.


The most explanatory tools in the development projects were 3D visualizations and walkable VR models.

The easily perceivable 3D images helped disciplines perceive the upcoming changes and encouraged them to ponder the prerequisites. The virtual model allowed users to enter the spaces in question and sense the feel of the new designs.

The workspaces that were a part of the development work are mainly located on the City Centre campus. Most properties were built over a century ago and are architecturally and historically significant. The challenge in workspace development lay in providing modern functions in historic buildings of various kinds.

”University of Helsinki’s premises are developed in close collaboration with their users. During the last years, the university has invested heavily in the development of work and learning environments. Our partner KOKO3 has had a significant role in this process. The diverse expertise of KOKO3’s designers and the in-depth focus on our projects has received positive feedback among university staff. The collaborative methods applied to the development projects have been stimulating and have generated demonstrative design plans that engage user groups. The plans have truly served as the base for steering the implementation plans of our construction projects.”

Ari Nisonen
Property Manager, University of Helsinki

New learning spaces require flexibility and easy group work facilities. We designed a new terraced auditorium for the Faculty of Science. The new layout gives the lecturer a more active role – the new layout also facilitates teamwork in an auditorium setting and supports learning together. The terraced auditorium was completed in autumn 2021.