Financial campus, Helsinki

By incorporating existing buildings, this banking headquarters by JKMM becomes its own downtown.

Text: Tarja Nurmi

The Finnish OP Financial Group had for a long time functioned at several addresses in Helsinki. In Vallila, a former working-class neighbourhood, some corporate or bank buildings plus small industry have also coexisted, together with a charming wooden housing area from around a century ago. Following an invited competition, JKMM Architects presented the winning design for a new head office that would embrace the older office buildings. This leading younger generation office, mostly known for its fine libraries, schools, and day-care centres, operates in a way that it encourages younger team members to be active in the creation of solid and lasting buildings. The entirety of this small team of architects, plus interior architects and even students, has been active in the design process from the very beginning. The responsible architect is Asmo Jaaksi, who is also responsible for the Apila municipal library in Seinäjoki (see A10 #51).

The new headquarters was delivered in early autumn 2015, now experienced as an impressive, campus-like workplace of high aesthetic and functional quality. When finished, the block will contain workplaces for close to as many as 4000 company employees, including public relations specialists, lawyers, and cooks.

It may seem odd to mention cooks specifically, but his comes from the fact that the team of architects and designers (plus a couple of artists) has created something reminiscent of a piazza and surrounding streets on the first floor, complete with eating establishments and places to meet, rather than an ordinary bank building foyer. The concept includes several cafés and restaurants. The finest of these, has white linen tablecloths and the golden lamps designed by Aalto. Even this  top-notch restaurant is not sequestered behind closed doors – anyone walking along the in-house street can get a glimpse of the finely furnished lunch counters and restaurants, each with its own identity.

The idea is to tempt the workforce to actively use the building. Hence, the large central space, elegant glass roof, artistically treated perforated steel covering of the vast technical spaces and installations in the main space, and overall high-quality investment. OP Financial Group has an exquisite art collection of its own as well. Fine works of art can now be carefully displayed in various spaces of the building.

Only the executive chairman and his secretary have offices of their own on the work floors. All other functions have been made as flexible and digital as possible, with small tea kitchens and conference spots scattered about for short breaks. The company’s aim is to be the most desired employer in the field of finance and banking. The feeling of being in a small town and on its streets also comes from the fact that the older buildings surrounding the piazza and the in-house streets are incorporated into the giant block, their formerly exterior facades almost completely untouched.

On its outside, the building is contextual and horizontal. The facades are slightly tilted and edgy, to avoid monotony. There are giant, glass-clad slashes or cuts. These function to generously open the building into the cityscape. The open workspaces are placed on the outer skirt of the building. Only small conference rooms and rooms for silent working or telephone conferences look into the inner courtyard. The ground level entrance is treated with high-quality materials, thanks to the purposeful gardening and landscaping design. Two granite blocks, even with the original moss still on them, were transported to Helsinki and placed in front of the main entrance. They symbolize the solid ‘Finnish-ness’ of this building for banking and finance.

The headquarters has been criticized, however, for not having cafés on the ground floor. Even so, on both sides of the entrance some areas are open to the public. One is a narrow series of rooms like an art gallery. From the foyer, it is also possible to view the central space and the beautifully patterned and dimensioned glass and steel ceiling, plus the perforated and pleated, artistically treated steel cladding above the restaurants. This was originally an idea from architecture student Janne Leino. Another space that is always open to the public during business hours is the OP Vallila bank. It has a cool white and sleek interior, comfortable chairs, and even an espresso machine.

OP Financial Group headquarters, 2012–2015, Architect: JKMM, Established: 1998, Client: OP Financial Group, Address: Teollisuuskatu 1, Helsinki, Info: www.jkmm.fi