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National Pensions Institute, Main Building

Address: Nordenskiöldinkatu 12, 00250 Helsinki, Finland Open Google map

Entrance fee: Guided tours are suspended until further notice

Themes: Office buildings, Red brick

Website: Alvar Aalto Foundation

National Pensions Institute (The Social Insurance Institution of Finland) Head Office is close to the centre of Helsinki. The richly nuancedly monumental main building represents the best of Aalto’s office buildings. The building (1953-1956) is still in its original use.

Aino and Alvar Aalto won the design competition for the head office in 1948. New designs were made when the first plot was changed for another. The floor plan for the building on the new triangular plot was divided into smaller building units, which reduced the impression of a large building mass. A raised inner courtyard sheltered from the traffic in the street is left in the middle of the building. Its character as a public building has been emphasized by its exceptional siting in contrast to the neighbouring buildings. The building is split-level and is lower on the park side.

The complex comprises 310 rooms and 22,500 m2 of floor space. The facade materials are red brick, copper, and black granite. The building is distinguished throughout by workmanship and materials of high quality: all details are carefully studied and the interior design is exquisite, especially that of the management floor and the conference rooms. Aalto developed several new variants of his standard furniture for the Institute, a whole series of new light fittings, ceramic wall claddings, and a variety of textiles.

The general public has access only to the customer service hall, three stories high and lit by three prism-shaped lantern skylights. This room originally contained twenty-eight unroofed interview cubicles in which applicants could present their cases undisturbed to the staff. Of special interest is the tiny library, it is a miniature version of Aalto’s renowned early work, the Viipuri Library.

The intended site was a block marked off by Mannerheimintie, Töölönkatu and Kivelänkatu, though a neighbouring block facing Hesperiankatu was given as an alternative. The entire project was to be funded by the the Social Insurance Institution of Finland, which looked forward to obtaining a good, reliable return on its investment.

Aalto was commissioned to develop this extensive plan further, and he worked on it until 1952, when problems with the site led to the decision to build on another site altogether. The entire original plan for the National Pensions Institute was scrapped in 1952, when a much smaller, triangular site in Taka-Töölö (bordered by Nordenskiöldinkatu, Messeniuksenkatu, and Minna Canthinkatu) was selected.

In order to avoid the oppressive feeling of a large office building in a crowded urban setting, Aalto differentiated the workplaces for over 800 employees into a ramified organism spread out among several seemingly individual building volumes with excellent internal communications both above and below ground. The complex forms an irregular U surrounding a raised, planted courtyard sheltered from traffic noise and exhaust gases and with a view of an adjacent park; the height of the building volumes is stepped down towards the park.

The facade materials are red brick, copper, and black granite. Picture: Maija Holma, Alvar Aalto Foundation

The building is situated in a triangular site in Taka-Töölö, Helsinki. Picture: Maija Holma, Alvar Aalto Foundation

In order to avoid the oppressive feeling of a large office building in a crowded urban setting, Aalto differentiated the workplaces for over 800 employees into a ramified organism spread out among several seemingly individual building volumes with excellent internal communications both above and below ground. The complex forms an irregular U surrounding a raised, planted courtyard sheltered from traffic noise and exhaust gases and with a view of an adjacent park; the height of the building volumes is stepped down towards the park.
Kansaneläkelaitoksen portaikon sauvatiilet, Helsinki
Various models and colours of ceramic tiles have been used in the interiors. Some models of the tiles were designed specifically for the National Pensions Institute. Picture: Maija Holma, Alvar Aalto Foundation
Kansaneläkelaitoksen kirjasto, Helsinki
The building also has a small library, which resembles other library designs by Aalto. Picture: Maija Holma, Alvar Aalto Foundation
National Pensions service cabinets for the public 1953-1957 kuva Maija Holma Alvar Aalto Foundation
Some of the National Pensions customer service cubicles that for used in 1953-1957 can also be seen when visiting the building. Picture: Maija Holma Alvar Aalto Foundation

Destination on the map

1. National Pensions Institute, Main Building

Information for visitors

Good to know

Arriving to The National Pensions Institute

National Pensions Institute is located close to the city centre of Helsinki on Nordenskiöldinkatu 12. It is located within good reach of public transport.

Read more about National Pensions Institute

Read more about Aalto’s architecture in Helsinki

Further information

Please note: Guided tours at the National Pensions Institute, Main Building are suspended until further notice.

(Guided tours at the building are held on Monday’s at 2 pm. Please note that you need to book on the previous week by Wednesday the latest. Please contact opastukset.paatalo@kela.fi for bookings.)