Sotamaa’s Distinguished Career Lauded at Farewell Event
The distinguished career of Professor Yrjö Sotamaa, the longest-standing rector of the University of Art and Design Helsinki, was celebrated at an engaging farewell party at Media Centre Lume on 30 November.
Numerous colleagues, friends and students of Rector and Professor Emeritus Sotamaa gathered together with partners and stakeholders of Aalto University for the send-off at the School of Art and Design. Sotamaa’s life’s work was celebrated with speeches, pictures and musical numbers. A portrait of the professor, immortalised by photographer Pentti Sammallahti, was unveiled at the event.
Philanthropist and Visionary
In her speech, Executive Dean Helena Hyvönen of the School of Art and Design said that already during their studies she had formed an image of Yrjö Sotamaa, who was then studying interior architecture, as a real philanthropist.
At the affectionate event, best wishes were given to Sotamaa among others by President Tuula Teeri and the Executive Dean of the School of Economics, Eero Kasanen, who reminisced about the start of Aalto University. As well as from heads of department and professors of the School of Art and Design, Sotamaa received an homage from the TOKYO student association, which he once chaired. All the speeches made mention of Sotamaa’s visionary character.
“I immediately noticed that Yrjö looked far into the future,” President Teeri recalled about her first meeting with Sotamaa.
“Someone like Yrjö is needed for every project,” said Pekka Timonen, Director of the World Design Capital Helsinki 2012 project, thanking Sotamaa for his contribution.
The School of Art and Design in the Vanguard
During Yrjö Sotamaa’s term as rector, the University of Art and Design Helsinki grew into an internationally renowned university of design, media and art. Sotamaa also played a key role in formulating design and innovation policies for Finland and other countries. During his long career, he has concentrated on promoting the social role and strategic importance of design. Some of his central themes have been international cooperation, creative competence and sustainable development. Sotamaa began working at the University of Art and Design Helsinki as Head of the Interior Design Department in 1975. He was the Universityl’s rector from 1986 to 2008 and continued as a Professor until late 2010.
“The School of Art and Design is a good example of how a small university can grow into a top centre of expertise in its field by focusing on its core competences,” Teeri said in her speech.
From Arabianranta to Aalto
Aalto University became one of the milestones of Sotamaa’s career. It was he who, in his opening speech for the 2005-2006 academic year, proposed the formation of a new university out of the union of the University of Art and Design Helsinki, the Helsinki University of Technology and the Helsinki School of Economics.
“We need a creative merger of design, technology and marketing – a true innovation university,” Sotamaa said then.
“If the construction of the new university starts from a genuine ambition to create a completely new kind of institution focused on creativity, to significantly increase the autonomy of higher education, to come up with new forms of collaboration with industry and commerce, and to substantially increase funding, then we will have a formula that will lead to the development of world-class competence.”
Professor Sotamaa retired from Aalto University on 1 October 2010. He currently lives in China for some of the year, where he leads the Sino-Finnish Centre of Aalto University’s Chinese partner, Tongji University, also holding the posts of Professor and Advisory Dean.
Upon the initiative of staff members, the Yrjö Sotamaa Chair will be established at Aalto University to commemorate the professor’s work and to promote the internationalisation of design research and creative research environments. Aalto University asks that anyone wishing to pay tribute to Sotamaa’s career make a donation towards the fund-raising for this seat.
Written by Anna-Maija Aalto
Photographer: Katja Maria Nyman