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Ministry of Social Affairs and Health
Helsinki, Finland, 1999

Ministry of Social Affairs and Health

Client: State Real Property Authority
Location: Helsinki, Finland
Year of completion: 1999
Gross area: 12 100 m²
Volume: 40 300 m³

The new premises for the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health are situated in the old borough of Kruunuhaka in the centre of Helsinki. They form the last part of the recently completed Valtioneuvostonlinna, Government Palace, the main building standing only a few hundred yards to the side of tile empire styled Senate Square designed by the architect C.L. Engel.

A competition was initially organised in order to find a design for the new Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. It was won by the architect Pekka Helin and his design team with a proposal entitled "Sinuhe" . The resultant construction work commenced in the spring of 1996 immediately after the competition results were announced with the building being completed in the early part of the summer of 1999. Prior to the completion the Ministry operated at 13 different decentralised addresses around Helsinki. It was therefore interesting to establish whether the centralisation and improvement of working conditions would affect the work culture within the Ministry. Almost the entire Ministry, consisting of a little over 300 civil servants, moved to the new premises.

used as a parking area. The building that had The building plot is on the corner of Meritullinkatu and Kirkkokatu and was originally an empty site which had been previously occupied the site – a prestigious residential building in the neo-classical style and designed in 1863 by C.J. von Heideken – had been considered to be in bad condition and was consequently pulled down in the early 1970's. A strict master plan had then been drawn up designating the site for occupation by a substantial office building.

While using modern technology and providing an efficient contemporary working environment, the main concern of the architect was to attune the new building to the old coherently built context of the city borough. The basis for the design was the creation of a modern and contemporary building that considers and relates to the mass and scale of its surroundings. The nearby city quarters consist of buildings of varying character and style, but are mostly jugendstil or classical in their style and have strongly emphasised decorative motifs, such as horizontal moulding strong elevation relieves and tall vertical windows. The new building was to fit into the context utilizing contemporary design, but it was also considered important that the building should be distinguishable as a public building and consequently differ from the surrounding residential buildings. Finnish granite was chosen as the elevation material. However, it was not used as a load bearing material, but instead it was divided by large relief-like window openings which in turn were joined by narrow strip windows. The white concrete elevations of the inner courtyard wings, together with their brass window frames, were devised in order to bring in more light to the core of the site. This elevational treatment also reflected the traditional way of designing the elevations of the urban quarters within Helsinki: The more prestigious street facade was complemented and contrasted by a more modest elevational treatment within the courtyard.

The main space within the scheme is the tall lobby that divides the building and which is revealed at the main entrance in Meritullinkatu, providing views into the building. Passers by can obtain a glimpse of people using the high level bridges that connect different parts of the building as well as the artwork in the lobby and the play of light and shadow on the partly stucco treated internal walls. A third, separate and curved office wing bends away from the volumes that line the street and threads itself towards the inner areas of the quarter. The curved form creates tension and further interest for both the courtyard and city views and also for the views from within the offices. In parallel, the new building respects the older buildings on the site by embracing them and yet failing to touch them.

The street level of the building consists of an entrance lobby, a multipurpose hall for conference and seminar use, a staff restaurant and the ministry library. There are six floors in total with a typical floor consisting of approx. BO work stations which, due to their inherently private character, are mainly individual offices The linear corridor spaces have been broken by providing views to the surrounding city landscape. The windows offer alternate views outwards to the decorative facades of the opposing buildings, to the streets and a pane' to an old fire wall and even to the sea and the Uspenski Cathedral.

The top floor consists of an ICT classroom and conference and sauna facilities which provide interesting rooftop views towards Helsinki Cathedral. Besides the 40 car parking places stipulated in the master plan, the basement houses technical facilities, storage spaces as well as exercise and other staff facilities. In spite of the traditional character of the new offices for the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, the building is very flexible and it caters for potential mayor alterations in the future. Other important decisive factors in the design included sustainability and the economy of maintenance.

The building was officially opened on September 14th, 1999. The Ministry's experience of the first few months within the new building has been positive. Working under the same roof has generated expected synenergy and increased communication both at an individual and department level.