The dawn of the über-school - Monocolumn | Monocle


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9 January 2010

When it comes to brainstorming, most will agree two heads are better than one. In the case of Helsinki’s new Aalto University, it’s three “brains” that have come together – the Helsinki School of Economics, the University of Art and Design, and the Helsinki University of Technology.

By aligning the different disciplines of business, design, technology, art and science, the aim is to create a hotbed of innovation that will stimulate both local and international industries. A collective voice is being given to Finland’s creative enterprises.

The ambitious move, years in the pipeline, forms part of a government-wide strategy to reform higher education across Finland. The school, run as a foundation, is governed by a seven-member board and funded by a combination of private donations and government support.

In a colourful opening ceremony yesterday (8 January), the university was officially inaugurated. There were speeches, including an address from the country’s prime minister and president, a procession and a display by fire artists. The pomp and fanfare reflected the nation’s high hopes for the Aalto University. The mission is to make it one of the world’s leading universities by 2020. It’s a tough challenge but one that its supporters seem confident about being able to achieve. The secret? Strength in numbers – resources, research and, most importantly, knowledge can now effectively be pooled and shared. The business of design can be properly prioritised within this aligned framework.

“When we work together, we can get something that is better than anything we could have created on our own. What we are trying to achieve with this combination is to stimulate innovation, ” says Tuula Teeri, president of the university. She previously worked as deputy president at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. “Because we are still relatively small, we can be quite quick in our movements and hope that the things we create together can be implemented rather swiftly,” she adds.

So, what exactly will change? Well, it will be a slow and gradual process, but expect more multi-disciplinary courses and experimental research units to launch. The Design Factory, Media Factory and Service Factory –experimental research workshops – are among the university’s first joint projects. They showcase the kind of collaborative efforts that could emerge. Also, watch out for the new brand identity that is rolling out steadily across all marketing collateral. It has been designed by upcoming Finnish graphic designer Rasmus Snabb, who was a student at the University of Art and Design when the merger was first announced. The identity shuns the more traditional kind of logo associated with educational instutions. Clean and clutter-free, it features a simple stand-alone letter A, accompanied by an exclamation mark, a quotation mark or a question mark, depending on its application. “I chose very neutral visual symbols because I wanted it to be charged with meaning through the coming years. If the university comes out and says it is an innovation university, you have to live up that with the identity, and do things differently.”


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