Sunday, July 13, 2014

More Aalto in Helsinki

Site No. 53: National Pensions Institute in Helsinki (1953-56)

Summer is here and it was once again time for me to visit our capital Helsinki. However, there would be no visit to Helsinki without stopping by at an Alvar Aalto site. I paid visits to several Aalto buildings in Helsinki, many of them I have already presented in this blog earlier. Today I would like to present you a new building, a really outstanding one. According to the guide who showed me around, this particular building is considered by the Aalto Foundation as one of in its original design best preserved Aalto building in entire Finland. The building in question is the headquarters of the Social Insurance Institute of Finland also known as Kansaneläkelaitos or KELA in short. By the time build it was still called the National Pensions Institute of Finland. The building is located in the district of Töölö at Nordenskiöldenkatu 12. It was erected on a free spot and is therefore surrounded by much older buildings in a kind of triangel as you see on the picture taken from the air that was on display in the foyer of the building. The building stands out from its environment as it was kept in red brick:

To visit the building you can take any tram line heading from the city centre towards Töölö (lines 2,4,7A and 10), you have to get off at the building's own stop called "Kansaneläkelaitos", trams run every few minutes and the ride takes only about 10 minutes. Free guided tours are arranged 1-2 times a week, mainly on Mondays and Fridays at 2 pm. Visits however need to be arranged prior by e-mail through viestinta (at)

I had the luck to be able to participate in a guided tour. As there were no other participants, I even had a private tour. At this point I would like to say a big "thank you" to the friendly guide who answered all my questions and opened so many doors for me. But before having a look inside the building first some pictures from the outside. The building was designed in the early 1950s as there was need for a headquarters for the newly founded National Pensions Institute. It belongs to Aaltos red brick phase.

Street view of the building when coming from Mannerheimintie (where the tram stop is located)

The building was erected on this granit rocks, some of them have still be kept in front of the building

The main entrance doors and the name of the institute, altogether there are 4 entrance doors, 3 for customers on the right site of the sign and one on the left only for the staff

Now as promised pictures from inside the building:

View of the main entrance doors. Before the institute opened branches all over Helsinki the entire customer service was provided in this building. Today the building only functions as the headquarters, customers are served in branch offices but mainly of course through the internet.

The reception, not anymore in use.

The waiting room

The fancy entrance area is dominated by white and dark blue tiles and marble floor, white marble importet from Italy and black marble from Belgium as well as furniture made of black leather

A wooden model of the building is on display in the entrance area as well

Customer service took place in the old days in those small cabins in order to ensure privacy, those cabins were also designed by Alvar Aalto and one was kept for display to visitors in the entrance hall


The inside of such a service cabin, the customer was seated on a very confortable Aalto design chair

Aalto design furniture in the bag-office area, first drawings of the building by Alvar Aalto are on display at the wall behind

The library of the building, an Aalto typical library kept on two floors with a reading room on the lower level

Interesting is the use of a lot of natural light through windows in the ceeling

Entrance to the building's own restaurant, the building was designed for 700 workers so a own restaurant does definitely make sense

Interesting in the restaurant wing is the fact that the room is heated through pannels kept in the ceeling which can be seen well on this picture

 All the furniture designed by Alvar Aalto

A speciality of this building is that Alvar Aalto used five different kind of tile colors. In this picture four of them can be seen, in the entrance hall however, also light blue ones were used.

Those by Arabia produced tiles can be found on many Aalto buildings around the world, the Seinäjoki town hall is just one very good example. However, the only colors used are normally white and a dark blue. In this building Aalto was experimenting with five different colors. All five colors can been seen on the picture on the right which was taken at the Alvar Aalto Museum in Jyväskylä:

Another dark blue tile wall in the corridor between the restaurant and the customer service area

The building has also a very nice inner yard which can be seen through large windows from the restaurant, this is a space for recreation for the staff and thanks to its locations well separated from the street

This former recreation hall, equipped with sport facilities was rebuild into a conference room. The furniture however, are original Aalto design.

Also the former customer service are containing of 28 service cabins was rebuild into another even larger conference room

The roof windows of the large former customer service hall are six storries high and contain also lamps for the dark season, the natural light could not be seen on this picture due to some renovation work that was going on the roof

Another view of the large customer service hall

Another street view of the building


  1. Are you a german architect living in Finland?

    1. Thank you for your question, I am actually not an architect even many people think so :-) I am just interested in architecture and photography.

  2. Ah ok, I was sure, that you´re an architect. Your blog is awesome.
    I have a question concerning those tiles you mentioned. When you talk about Arabia, you mean the Arabia Porcelain company, right? And is your information a safe source? I was in Jyväskylä this summer but this wasn´t mentioned somehow.
    And would you allow to maybe copy some of your pics and maybe repost them?
    One more thing: next time you´re in Germany, you mustn´t miss the Aalto Theatre in Essen!



  3. Dear Nina, thank you for your friendly comments! Indeed, I was refering to the Arabia Porcelain Factory in Helsinki that produced those tiles mentioned in the post. I received this information from the guide who showed me around the building. I would say this source is pretty safe, the guide really had a broad background knowledge regarding the building's architecture and Aalto's work in general. Sure, you can copy and repost pictures from this blog as long as you do not use them commercially. Please feel free to link your blog also to mine if you like. Absolutely, there are several Aalto buildings in Germany still on my list and the Aalto Theatre is definitely on top of that.

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