School of Arts, Design and Architecture in a nutshell

The School of Arts, Design and Architecture was founded in 1871 as Craft School. It has grown into one of the most international schools in Finland. The international school is the largest in its field in the Nordic countries and one of the most respected in the world. In its present form the school started operating in 2012.


From Ateneum to Arabianranta

The school got a nickname 'Atski', used in spoken language, from Ateneum, the noble building drawn by Theodor Höijer, located by the Rautatientori square. Ateneum served as the furnace of industrial art education for 100 years. Now the building hosts the Finnish National Gallery. The School of Art and Design moved to its current premises in the Arabia factory real estate in 1986, and after several decades, gathered all departments of the school under a common address. The Arabianranta project has created an internationally significant industrial art and media centre around the school.

Studies and research

Since the 1970s, the aim of education at the School of Art and Design has been to deepen students’ scientific and artistic competence, and to refine their innovative processing into professional practices. The original, traditional education in product and environmental design was gradually joined by strong training in visual communication, new media, film and television.

The school's swift internationalization has opened doors to partnerships with foreign institutions and businesses, and to international markets, for example, China and Japan. Media education, research and development, as well as multidisciplinary research schools are now integrated in the school's operations.

Since the 1990s, the establishment of multidisciplinary study programmess between different universities has been part of the renewal and expansion of education. IDBM, Polis, MEDES, HSCE and Visual Journalism have paved the way for the later, more extensive cooperation of the universities.

The degree system renewed in 1994 divided the basic degree into a lower and higher basic degree: a three-year degree of Bachelor of Art (BA), and a two-year degree of Master of Art (MA). Until the end of 1999, it was possible to get a Licentiate of Art degree. The current degree structure is internationally commensurate.

Since 1983, it has been possible to study for a degree of Doctor of Arts at the School of Art and Design. The first doctoral dissertations took place at the beginning of the 1990s. Today, eight to ten new Doctors of Arts graduate from the School of Arts, Design and Architecture every year.

Building on tradition

The Department of Architecture at Aalto University is the oldest architecture school in Finland. With its rich history and strong traditions of public sector co-operation, the department is a leading place of study for pre- and post-graduate architecture students from around the world.

The roots of Aalto’s Department of Architecture go back to the 1863, when the German architect Wilhelm Ludwig Bähr was appointed senior teacher at the Helsinki Technical School. Upon Bähr’s passing, Finland’s F.A. Sjöström took the role of senior teacher at the newly-named Polytechnic Institute, where he taught building design, construction, art history and composition.

Sjöström was succeeded by Karl Gustaf Nyström, who led the Polytechnic’s Department of Architecture for some 30 years. Nyström was also a well-known architect of public buildings in Finland. During this period, Finland became the first country in the world to offer architectural education to women, marked in 1890 by the graduation of Signe Hornborg – the first female architect in Europe.

From 1919 to 1925 the Department of Architecture was led by Armas Lindgren, a partner in the firm Gesellius, Lindgren & Saarinen Architects. He was succeeded by J.S. Siren, who was the main proponent of classicist architecture in Finland in the 1920s and 1930s. He taught for 27 years.

The nomination of Otto-I. Meurman as professor of town planning in 1940 laid the groundwork for teaching urban design at an academic level. After World War II, the number of architecture students in Finland increased dramatically, with some 50 new alumni enrolling annually. Around this time, the Professorship of Housing Design was established, followed in subsequent decades by the Professorships of Urban Planning and Building Construction.

In 1989, a degree programme and a professorship of Landscape Architecture were established. These were followed in 1995 by the development of a programme and professorship in Wood Construction.

The 2000s

In 2007, the education authorities in Finland reached a decision to merge the Helsinki University of Technology (including the School of Architecture), the University of Art and Design Helsinki, and the Helsinki School of Economics into the newly formed Aalto University. The merged university – which specializes in multidisciplinary education – became operational in 2010.

To complete this change, the Department of Architecture merged with the School of Art and Design on 1 January 2012, to form the new Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture.


Throughout its history, the school, and its students, have with their efforts had an impact on the direction of Finnish culture and design. They have gained international recognition through their work. The top names of Finnish art, design and architecture Alvar Aalto, Juhani Pallasmaa, Eliel Saarinen, Ilmari Tapiovaara, Bertel Gardberg, Arno Ruusuvuori, Reima Pietilä, Mikko Heikkinen, Tapio Wirkkala, Severi ParkoTimo Sarpaneva, Kaj Franck, Birger Kaipiainen, Erik Bruun, Kirsti Rantanen, Dora Jung, Rut Bryk, Vuokko Nurmesniemi, Antti Nurmesniemi, Yrjö Kukkapuro, Pentti Sammallahti, Yrjö Wiherheimo, Janna Syvänoja, Harri Koskinen, Elina Brotherus, Paola Suhonen, Riikka Pelo have all been students at the School of Arts, Design and Architecture.

Page content by: | Last updated: 14.06.2017.