Hugo Harmia was born in 1907. He matriculated from school in 1927 and became an architect in 1933 when Finland was in the grips of a depression. Fortunately for Hugo Harmia his cousin Alvar Aalto hired him to work at his architecture firm and one of the tasks of the job was to supervise the construction of the Paimio Sanatorium on Aalto's behalf. Alvar Aalto's father first married a sister of Hugo Harmia's father, and he later married the other sister. The first of them was Alvar's mother. This makes Hugo and Alvar cousins.
In the 1930s and 1940s Hugo Harmia worked at the Building Authority of the City of Helsinki together with Woldemar Baeckman (1911–1994). They were close partners and took part in several competitions together.
‘I remember how father and Woldemar worked in the evenings and at night in our living room in Munkkiniemi. The furniture was pushed to the side and the desks were brought out. The room filled up with tobacco smoke. The men did not speak much, concentrating on their work instead,’ Asko Harmia says, remembering his childhood.
In the period between the Winter War and the Continuation War Hugo and Woldemar won the architectural competition for the Helsinki School of Economics. The war initially stopped the project. During the Continuation War Hugo Harmia worked as an engineer lieutenant doing fortification work at Kiviniemi on the shore of Lake Ladoga. After the war he went back to work for the Building Authority. In the 1940s Hugo and Woldemar also set up their own architectural firm Harmia & Baeckman.
School of Economics rises on Runeberginkatu
After the war it became possible to build the Helsinki School of Economics. As Asko Harmia recalls, his father was always at the building site when the School of Economics was being built.
‘I attended the Helsinki Normal Lyceum on Ratakatu and from there I often went to the Building Authority to ask my father for money. Father did not have the nerve to refuse me pocket money when Woldemar was standing there,’ Asko recalls.
The imposing Helsinki School of Economics was completed on Runeberginkatu and was inaugurated in 1950.
‘My father also had other places to design, like the head offices of the Finnish Sugar Factory. The small red-brick part of the building is still standing and is located next to the Finnish National Opera.’
The Koskela Depot of Helsinki City Transport and the large Haka residential block on the corner of Hämeentie and Mäkelänkatu as well as a cluster of residential buildings at Ruskeasuo in Helsinki were designed by Hugo and Woldemar. Hugo also designed the summer home of his own family in Nuuksio.
A schoolboy’s memories
Asko Harmia (born 1934) says that he has few memories of his father, because his father's life was dominated mainly by the war, work, and because of his early death. Hugo died in 1952, when Asko was just 17 years old.
‘At home we constantly had parties. It was as if my father and his friends were trying to recover the youth that was ruined by the war.’
Except for his father's architectural work, Asko did not have personal contacts to the School of Economics. However, he does recall that as a schoolboy in 1951 he attended a fund-raising event of some kind with his father, and he also remembers a few charity concerts.
Asko himself studied law. He first got his law degree at the University of Helsinki and later he became judge at the Helsinki Court of Appeal. Some in the next generation in his family have studied at the School of Economics (today School of Business).
Hugo Harmia died of a heart attack while serving as a judge in an architectural competition held in Kuopio in 1952.
Asko Harmia and his wife Else-Maj visited the former School of Economics building on 9 June 2021. The School of Business moved from Töölö to the Otaniemi Campus of Aalto University in February 2019. The renovation of the former main building of the Helsinki School of Economics designed by Hugo Harmia and Woldemar Baeckman was completed at the end of 2020, when Aalto University Executive Education Ltd (Aalto EE), which offers executive education and leadership development services for corporate management, moved into the facility. The building is now called Aalto University Töölö.