Dipoli has had an eventful history. Originally, it was built as the student house for Helsinki University of Technology. Now, this historically and culturally significant building has been restored to its former glory and serves as the first main building of Aalto University.
1. Second place turned into victory
An architecture competition to design Dipoli was held in the early 1960s, after Helsinki University of Technology had moved from Hietalahti Square in Helsinki to Otaniemi in Espoo. The site for Dipoli in Espoo was challenging because of its rocky terrain, and the facilities in the student house needed to be highly flexible, which added to the challenge. None of the entries met all of the requirements specified for the design, so no winner was announced.
Second place was tied between the entries submitted by Reima Pietilä and Raili Paatelainen, and by Osmo Lappo. Eventually, The Cavemen’s Wedding March, the entry by Pietilä and Paatelainen, who later married, was selected.
2. Contradictory critiques
The radical, sculpture-like architecture of Dipoli, with its copper and granite cladding, met with contradictory reviews. According to the Norwegian critic Christian Norberg-Schulz, it represented architecture that takes local values into account, instead of being a work of generic modernism. Juhani Pallasmaa wrote in Arkkitehti magazine in 1967 that the design of the building did not comply with the principles of responsibility.
Reima Pietilä said that Dipoli “goes against good taste” and defends the right “to be different but still be architecture”. In his opinion, the purpose of Dipoli was to provoke discussion and to further develop over time.
Dipoli’s building history survey (in Finnish)
Entrance to the festival lobby area is named after the Pine Cone.
3. A kinetic pine cone greets visitors
There is an eye-catching, seven-metre-high metallic pine cone in front of Dipoli. It was Finland’s first major acoustic-kinetic sculpture, with architecture student Reijo Perko as art designer, technology student Heikki Koivikko as structural designer and technology student Philip Donner as sound designer.
The Pine Cone was opened and closed using a coin slot with a markka (Finnish mark) coin. The sculpture was unveiled by president Urho Kekkonen in 1968, during a five-day art event organised by the Helsinki University of Technology Student Union and the National Union of University Students in Finland.
Dipoli's windows mirror the forest surrounding it.
4. Only two identical windows
Dipoli represents organic architecture, a style favoured by Reima and Raili Pietilä. In Otaniemi, the couple were inspired by the rock that Dipoli was built on and inside of. The building has only two identical windows, as the rhythm of the windows is in sync with the surrounding forest.
Reima Pietilä became Finland’s most significant architect in the 1980s. In the Finnish construction magazine Rakennuslehti, he was described as follows: “With his Kalevala-style brimless cap, Academic Reima Ilmari Pietilä resembles his ideal, the shamanic Seppo Ilmarinen from Kalevala. As a forest mystic, he resembles his own work. In the early 1960s, Dipoli was an explosion of free expression in Finland for that entire decade.”
5. Seven fireplaces
The special features of Dipoli include seven fireplaces, all of which are still in use. The most impressive ones are located in the Metso Restaurant on the first floor and in Bistro Tenhola on the ground floor, where the fireplace is equipped with an equally impressive spit.
Watch a video about the creation of the Pine Cone sculpture.
One the seven fireplaces in Dipoli is in "The Girls' Room", which is today used as a meeting room.
6. Kekkonen’s secret refuge
Rumour has it that during the Cold War, a secret tunnel was built under Laajalahti Bay, from the president’s residence to Dipoli’s basement. Apparently, the idea was that the president would be safe there if threatened during a state of emergency, as no one would be able to work out that he was in Otaniemi.
The existence of such a mysterious tunnel has never been proved. However, there is an extensive network of tunnels under Dipoli and other campus buildings. Their original purpose remains a secret.
7. Management in a former strip club
Dipoli was developed by the Helsinki University of Technology Student Union. Its actual cost of construction turned out be many times higher than the budget, which sent the student union into a deep financial crisis. In response to this, the technology students generated new revenue streams by establishing a strip club – probably the first one in Finland – in the Luolamies (Caveman) restaurant. Today, Aalto University’s management works in these facilities. Another creative revenue stream was the car dealership on the first floor, for which a ramp was built outside the building.
Aalto University management's work space was restaurant Caveman back in the 1970s.
8. The home of the CSCE
Finlandia Hall became the symbol of the conference of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), which was held in Helsinki in 1975. Most of the preparatory work was carried out in Dipoli, which was leased out by the Helsinki University of Technology Student Union to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Finland for preliminary negotiations for the entire 1972–73 winter season. A chain-link fence was built around Dipoli, and the facilities were adjusted for meetings using temporary walls, carpet, new furniture, telephone booths and lights.
CSCE being prepared at Dipoli 22 November 1972.
9. Aalto University’s first main building
The renovated Dipoli opened its doors as the main building of Aalto University in summer 2017. Before this, the university, which launched its operations at the beginning of 2010 after being created through the merger of three universities, did not have an actual main building.
Dipoli, which was originally built as a student house and then became a conference centre for several decades, has been renovated. It now serves as a showcase for the university, which is open to all, and as a main building for the entire university, where Aalto University students, lecturers, employees, partners and local residents can meet one another and spend time together.
Its long history as a conference venue continues, as the facilities are available for outsiders, in addition to serving as a venue for university events. Dipoli has versatile and extensive facilities: the building accommodates up to 1,000 dinner guests or 31 simultaneous events.
Restaurant Reima serves delicious meals to Aalto University faculty and students all day until 7 p.m.
10. For every occasion
The renovated Dipoli has five restaurants and cafés in total. The Reima student and staff canteen on the first floor serves more than 1,000 meals per day and is open until 7 p.m. In addition to pastries and other sweet delicacies, Reima Café serves breakfast, and salad and soup for lunch. Metso is an à la carte restaurant with an interior that is reminiscent of James Bond films. It is aiming to become the best restaurant in Espoo.
Café Carre in the lobby is ideal for a little break, and it also sells tasty snacks to take away. Bistro Tenhola invites guests to relax by the fireplace after work, on original, restored chairs designed by Reima and Raili Pietilä.
Pictures: Pine Cone (Aalto University Communications), Windows of Dipoli (Teuvo Kanerva 1966-1983 City of Espoo museum archives), Girls' Room (Aalto University Communications), Caveman (Lehtikuva), CSCE being prepared (Lehtikuva) & restaurant Reima (Aalto University Communications).