Benchmark Visit #2
Espoo and Sipoo - Finland

21-24 May 2018


Architects: VERSTAS Architects
Location: Espoo, Finland
Design Team: Väinö Nikkilä, Jussi Palva, Riina Palva, Ilkka Salminen
Main contractor: YIT Rakennus Oy
Interior design: Karola Sahi in collaboration with Verstas Architects
Area: 10.500 sqm
Project Year: 2012
Source of information on Archdaily website

Saunalahti school is a building tailored to support the pedagogical ideas of a forward-looking school. The school puts special emphasis on new ways of learning: art, physical education and collaboration. The building supports these ideas by creating places for interaction of various scales and atmospheres.

Learning by doing”

Learning and doing with one’s own hands improves learning results. Art and physical education versatilely contribute to good learning and growth. In Saunalahti school these teaching spaces have been dedicated a prime location in the building. The workshops are open through glass walls to the street and the school yard.

"Out of the classroom"

The spatial organization of Saunalahti school supports learning also outside of the classrooms and encourages kids to use the school spaces in open-minded and unorthodox ways. Every interior and exterior space is a potential place for learning.

"Interaction and collaboration"

In addition to classes 1 to 9 of the comprehensive school, Saunalahti school houses a day care centre, preschool, youth house offering leisure activities and a small library combining the functions of communal and school library. In evenings and weekends different operators organize clubs and activities bringing together different user groups. The gymnastics premises are in communal use and the local residents actively use the sport fields and play grounds of the school yards. The building with its versatile array of services becomes the meeting point for the families in the area.

Common building for the whole community

Saunalahti school is a multi-purpose building for education and culture. The school is closely linked to the future central square of the new residential area of Saunalahti and its open character makes it an active part of the everyday environment of the residents.

The building is set on the site in a way that makes the school yards as safe and as comfortable as possible. The building forms a sheltering background to the school yards, protecting them from the traffic and noise of the street. Main entrances are from both the street and the yard side. The home areas have their own entrances from the yard.

The school yards are divided by the building into areas with favourable conditions for children of different ages. The youngest children with shorter school days enjoy sunlight in the morning and midday hours on their cosy yard. The older kids part of the yard is more closely connected to the square and continues receiving sunlight over the lower workshop wing until late in the afternoon. The two sports fields and the equipment for exercise and play scattered around the school yards are used not only during the school days but also by the locals on evenings and weekends.

The topography of the site has been utilized in the terraced yard which winds around the front of the dining hall forming an outdoor theatre. The theatre stage is situated at the joint between the school yards for the older and younger children, and integrates the interior and exterior worlds into a single spatial whole.

Functionality of the building

The functions and spaces are organized like a city into public, semi-public and private areas depending on the activity and the age of the children. The most public space and the space where all different user groups meet is the multi-purpose dining hall - the heart of the building. The stage opens to the dining hall which also serves as the festival hall of the school. The auditorium and the small library combining the functions of communal and school library are situated next to the heart space and the main entrance. The heart space and its stairs and balconies provide views over the outdoor auditorium and beyond to the central square of Saunalahti area, somewhat like a Greek theatre set into the mountainous landscape. The spatial organization of the building and the stimulating school yard encourage children to go outside during the breaks to play and move around.

Classrooms for the smaller children are organized into home areas with their own separate small scale lobbies with views to the school yards. The lobbies are used for group work and are closely connected both to the classrooms and to the heart space. The day care centre on the ground floor has its own yard on the quietest corner of the site. The older children's classrooms and the administration are placed to the second floor around the heart space.

The spaces for art and physical education comprise the workshop area between the street and the school yards. The spaces including workshops for cooking, music, wood, metal and textile handicrafts reveal the action to the surroundings through large openings to the street and the student work gallery toward the school yard. The youth house is placed to the southernmost part of the building next to the workshops and the future central square, providing it with a distinct atmosphere suitable for the leisure activities. The gymnastics halls on the ground floor can be used separately from the rest of the building through the entrances on the northern side.

Façades and materials

The scale of the building varies according to the functions and the age of the children both in the façades and inside the building. The free-from shape of the new school building follows the terrain. The roof, undulating to provide the optimal sun light conditions for the school yards, takes the shape of a soft meandering landscape. From the central square and the neighbouring apartment buildings the copper roof forms the fifth façade of the building.

The vast light central heart space of the building is emphasized by the characteristic free-form ceiling that echoes the form of the roof. Massive walls of cast on site concrete support the laminated timber beams that are left visible on the eaves outside the large glass wall of the space. Energy-efficient solutions – such as efficient heat recovery ventilation, highly controlled lighting and solar power – are used in the building.

Authentic materials used both on the façades and in the interiors are durable and give the building a warm and relaxed atmosphere – rough red brick, warm wood, concrete and copper on the façades and oak, concrete and light coloured rough surfaced brick in the interiors.

Subtle colours are used in the interiors in combination with the real colours of the surface materials to give the spaces warm and peaceful atmosphere suitable for learning. Brighter colours are used sparingly. The staircases and other spaces for circulation of different parts of the building have their unique signal colours. The colour scape of the furniture and signs of these areas echo the colours of the to help orientation in the large building.

The brick façades utilize the versatile properties of brick, comprising a collage of different brick-laying and bonding techniques. The layered belts of different brick bondings create an intermediate scale to the façade of the large building and emphasize the undulating eave line of the walls. The wooden façades facing the school yards are sheltered by long eaves.

More information and pictures of the school, here.


The visit of Sipoo was divided into two parts:

  • general presentation of “indoor air quality” in school buidlings in Sipoo/ Finland: requirements, programs, action plans, etc.
  • visit of some school buildings in Sipoo.

All the building projects in Finland need to be done according tothe Finnish Building Code which is based on The Land Use and Building Act (132/1999).  The Building Code specifies for example the appropriate level of carbon dioxide, humidity and temperature that are allowed in the class room.

Also another guideline that defines the school environment is the school curriculum. In Finland the new curriculum for primary and secondary school was launched in 2016 (and also for the early childhood education a bit later). The curriculum also affects the design and planning of the school buildings. According to the new curriculum the learning environments become more versatile. The old classroom based teacher-drawn learning transforms into learning by experiencing and phenomenon-based learning. That also means new requirements for the learning environments. The learning environments can be living room –like spaces for one or many classes to small quiet spots for one person. The curriculum emphasizes that the learning environments can be found in- or outdoors which means that the schoolis no more just a building but it expands into nearby playgrounds, forests and nature.

"Sipoo is growing rapidly at the moment, which forms a great challenge in building enough schools and kinder gardens for the new residents." In Sipoo the philosophy in planning the new and renovated school buildings is based on the triplet of pedagogy (the new curriculum), space efficiency (economy) and architecture. The buildings are planned to enable multiple uses which rises the utilization rate of the building. All the projects are done in cooperation between the departments of real estate management and education of Sipoo municipality. The good indoor quality is a basic requirement for all buildings.

Nikkilän Sydän school

Architect: ARK-house arkkitehdit Oy
Realisation: 2014 - 2016
School Center, Nikkilä, Sipoo
8 800 sqm
School website

Nikkilän Sydän is a new school building ("educational center") in the centre of Nikkilä, the administrative center of Sipoo. The building houses two schools, the Finnish and Swedish speaking secondary schools (grades 7-9). The building was planned to be constructed in two phases. First part of the building was ready in 2016 and the second phase will begin in the summer 2018. After the second construction phase is finished, the Finnish secondary school becomes comprehensive school as elementary school grades 1-6 move in.  After that the amount of students will be approximately 1000. In addition the extension of the building also the older spaces are modified into open learning spaces.