The OP head office in Helsinki is getting a makeover: The group’s Vallila premises are set to become a hub for its synergistic activities, and have therefore required extensive new construction and renovation work. The aim is an urban quarter that functions as a coherent whole, embodies the modern work environment and boasts a distinct identity firmly rooted in OP’s values.
From the architect’s point of view, the OP quarter’s prominent location provides a starting point that is at once auspicious and demanding. The large closed block impressively delimits the urban canyon of Teollisuuskatu, and creates a unified backdrop for the popular Dallapé Park. Teollisuuskatu and surrounding areas enjoy an image of urban dynamism and growth. Refining the quarter into a cityscape-enhancing, bustling financial centre considerably boosts the local economy, thus exemplifying OP’s social responsibility.
In 2011, JKMM won the architectural competition for the expansion and renovation project, which later evolved into a concept comprising the entire quarter. The sculptural design and the cityscape-complementing look born out of the competition have been preserved throughout the design process.
The construction of new builds to replace the buildings along Teollisuuskatu as well as the northern corner house on the Päijänteentie side constitutes the most extensive change to the cityscape around the quarter, which nevertheless retains some of its historical diversity. The rows of façades featuring buildings of different ages reflect the gradual way in which the inner city has been constructed.
The interaction between the inside and outside of the large quarter was at the heart of the architectural concept. The inside should be visible to outside observers, thus creating vistas of openness and transparency. In turn, those inside require visual contact with the outside world. This vision was brought to life through tall openings designed between the building materials, which punctuate the long façades and open up a view of the inside.
The design process has aimed to eschew rectangular designs in favour of a strong and memorable visual identity: the sculptural, massive quality of the new buildings recalls the imposing solidity of erratic boulders. The presence of the latter as an architectonic and design theme carries connotations of durability, permanence and Finnishness.
The quarter’s layout has undergone a complete transformation. The “gallery”, a circular indoor path under a glazed roof, serves as the quarter’s hub, connecting various functional units and providing a meeting space.
The quarter’s premises are divided into functionally distinct sections. When considered vertically, three discrete zones emerge: the basements (parking, machine rooms, storage rooms and maintenance facilities), the ground level (foyers, restaurants, conference centre, welfare services) and the upper levels (offices).
In addition to a foyer, the ground floor has been designed to house a lounge, an exhibition area and commercial premises. As a result, the massive quarter appears lighter and airier to passers-by on Teollisuuskatu. The foyer opens out to a glazed-roof atrium at the heart of the quarter. The open, alluring passage towards the quarter’s inner areas does not, however, come at the expense of the necessary safety zones or access control measures.
On the gallery level, restaurant services have been accorded a prominent position. A building at the very heart of the quarter houses a large, well-equipped central kitchen, which supplies surrounding serving areas in a radial fashion. In contrast to a single large office canteen, the restaurants boast a diverse range of sizes and themes. In addition to the restaurants, the conference centre has also been placed along the interior path so that the conference and meeting rooms open out to the glazed-roof gallery. The restaurants and the conference areas also derive mutual benefit from the synergy afforded by their close proximity. Welfare services constitute an important final piece of the puzzle, providing exercise facilities, occupational health care and more at the northern edge of the quarter.
The design of the office spaces takes its cues from a new work environment concept, in which solutions seek to enable various different modes of working, from quiet concentration to active interaction and teamwork. The themes of openness, flexibility and functional communality are centre stage in the new multi-space work environment.
All choices regarding structures and materials were guided by a desire for durability and quality, within a framework of cost-efficiency. The strengths of both concrete and steel have been harnessed to as great an extent as possible in order to create a diversity of structures. Interior surfaces and furniture feature natural materials, natural stone and wood.
Window placement has been adjusted so as to achieve optimal results with regard to the cityscape, the interior spaces, and energy balance. With the inner city’s stone buildings and urban environments in mind, the façades’ surface materials have been chosen to emanate durability and permanence. The new constructions stand out as plastered townhouses, whose façades are punctuated by natural stone surfaces.
The project observed international requirements for eco-efficient construction, and, as a result, achieved LEED Gold certification. The LEED rating system sets strict standards with regard to energy efficiency, the choice of construction materials, water use, indoor air quality and building location, among other considerations.
The architectural concept is naturally also rooted in the principles of sustainable development, and spatial design is based on functionality, flexibility, and fitness for purpose.