What does an innovative university campus look like in the future?
You might want to look in Otaniemi’s direction for an answer; the campus projects happening there almost make me want to apply for another degree. The student village of Otaniemi is transforming to a real city, as Aalto University is taking remarkable steps towards making it a truly innovative, interactive and sustainable campus – the Aalto City.
Cross-functional studying in multifunctional spaces
In 2020 the whole Aalto University will be in Otaniemi, an innovation hub serving different user groups from around the world. Business students have joined the campus that has been long reserved for schools of engineering and science, which both supports and requires change. Art students will follow. New concepts of space have been and are being built to support creative learning among students, not forgetting interaction between the university and other parties.
Otakaari 1, a building designed by Alvar Aalto and Elissa Aalto, built in 1964 and completed in 1975, has gone through major renovation and consist now of multi-functional and transformable study spaces, and a home base for thousands of Bachelor students of Aalto BIZ. What I like is that throughout the projects the ones that actually use the space have been involved in the design process – the only way to do things right.
A whole new building, called Väre, is under construction and will be home for the students of the School of Arts, Design and Architecture. Väre, based on a plan by Verstas Architects, will get a metro station with a university-owned shopping center and several office spaces for business use. This, and the coming of high speed tram connection helps especially those who have a problem with the slightly remote location of the campus, situated near the outskirts of Helsinki. Students can of course follow the progress of their new building online, through Väre-cam.
A lively, sustainable campus culture
Creating new, truly modern space in Otaniemi comes with taking into account all kinds of needs – of people and the environment. Because creativity happens over coffee, you can already find Robert’s Coffee and their ice cream factory at the Learning Center. Also, a beer brewery is starting to operate in the campus next year. Brooklyn café at the old shopping center, famous for the cupcakes, is a great place to have a break.
Art faculties moving to Otaniemi will in itself bring more art to Otaniemi, but also different plans to fund and support space for art are in place. Then, probably one of the biggest projects: Ecocampus 2030 project, which aims to make the campus energy self-sufficient by 2030 with an intelligent regional energy system and reduced energy consumption.
Digital solutions in the heart of campus innovation
As the campus grows bigger both in square meters and amount of students, questions regarding the safety and efficiency of the space becomes more and more urgent. Which is why Aalto CRE recently released the pilot version of Aalto Space app, the most recent implication of the university’s digital strategy.
Aalto CRE offers facilities for interaction between business life and the academic world in Aalto campus and is indeed one actor behind Otakaari 1’s renovation I wrote about above. Aalto CRE wanted to find a good digital solution to facilitate the finding of study spaces in the large, 50-year-old building, and to enable students to book space when needed.
In addition to making students’ lives easier, an important goal was to tackle the quite common problem of low utilization of meeting and study spaces. To improve safety on campus, they wanted to use the same solution to reach as many students as possible in emergency situations.
We had the pleasure to build the iOS and Android apps for the service in partnership with the Aalto community. The second time for us being part of an Aalto campus project, after last year’s project with Aalto University Student Union’s new housing system.
We set four goals for the Aalto Space project:
- increased utilization rate of facilities
- easier navigation in the building
- a safer campus environment in situations of emergency
- attaining all this by close collaboration with students and the campus team, IT and communication departments
To successfully increase the utilization rate, the booking was designed to work in real-time only, so space can’t be booked in advance. This way students will only book space when they actually need it and are present, which eliminates the problem of students booking space in advance and not showing up. Also, when finding and booking space happens real-time, students can end the booking when they are ready and release the space for others to use.
The amount of different lecture rooms and halls is high in Otakaari 1, and finding the right one used to be challenging. We used a partner specialized in indoor navigation called Steerpath, the same product that Slush uses in their conferences. Now, when entering the building and opening the app you will constantly see where you are in the building and find your way.
The product was launched in September, and the feedback has been, like this:
“Sweet app, bubbies. 10/10”
“This is a brilliant app. Love it <3”
The app is in pilot phase, currently in use only in Otakaari 1. Students and visitors can have a look at it and try it here.
The adoption of the app by students has brought up discussions about expanding the service to other buildings in the campus, so that in the future everyone carrying Aalto Space in their bag or pocket will have no problem in navigating around their ever changing campus. A safer campus where people can be sure to get a message about any irregular situations – a feature we ended up doing pro bono to provide a safe learning environment for all.
As to this day, the app will be developed according to feedback, and possibilities for new features depend on the users. Buying print credits or catering through the app have been suggested, what else can you think of?