Don’t just look at schools: inspiration from The Design Factory at Aalto University, Finland #SCILFinland

“Less space for individual territory and more space to share”

“Investment in people, not walls”


We had a few hours to spare and were invited to spend the morning at The Design Factory, a project centre located within Aalto University, and providing a place for interdisciplinary collaborative projects, from industry and well as student-based.

Aalto University came about after a merger of leading universities in 2010. The mission is to create “unique, world class meeting places for research, development and education”. The centre is based on fun, commitment and learning. Fun? Yes, learning and fun are essential values here.

The Design Factory prefers to trade quantity of spaces, for quality of use of space, by using the floor area more intensively, with high quality and colourful, interesting, well-designed fittings.



The Aalto University campus values: passion, freedom, courage, responsibility and high ethics. Some of the key terms used to describe the way they work and the use of spaces are:
World class
Freedom of choice
Co-location enables connections
Investment in people, not walls
Focus resources and share facilities

The Design Factory is a place that ‘brings home to work’. Collaboration is facilitated by an environment that is conducive to bringing people together. Spaces are cosy and designed to create the right ambience using lamps, wall furnishing.

Project work varies and spaces need to be used for multiple purposes. They don’t have a formal reception, it looks like a bar and is probably often used as such. Nooks and semi- enclosed areas create places of people to work together. I talked with a couple of students in one of the workshop spaces – one engineering, the other business, who were collaborating on a project.

All around the facility there is no one standard piece of furniture. Obviously just buying one style of furniture may be cost effective, but not conducive to providing different spaces for the different ways that people work.

To create interesting places within a space shipping containers have been used.

Best of all, the kitchen and ‘Coffice’ is the heart of The Design Factory. It really feels like home.


The team at the Design Factory have thought deeply and understand that the quality of the design and fit out are essential to the quality of collaboration and ultimately the quality of the project output.

Questions to ask?
Do you really need your own office?
Standardised furniture may be cost effective, but is it leading to better engagement and outcomes?
What simple and inexpensive nooks and spaces can be created?
What is the heart of your environment, where people love to gather and connection is facilitated?



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