History and architecture of WeeGee house

The WeeGee Exhibition Centre is situated in Tapiola, Espoo, in the former Weilin&Göös printing house. Professor Aarno Ruusuvuori (1924–1992) designed the first two phases of the building to be used for printing. The Weilin&Göös printing press operations were relocated in 1992. The City of Espoo purchased the property in 2001, and after some modification work, the first floor of the WeeGee Exhibition Centre was opened to the public on 13 October 2006.

WeeGee housePhoto: EKM Valokuvaamo Pietinen

How did the Weilin&Göös printing house become WeeGee

How did WeeGee Exhibition Centre get its name?
Past as the Weilin&Göös printing house 

Located in a building with architectural significance in Tapiola, Espoo, WeeGee Exhibition Centre honours the building’s history with its name. The building was originally constructed for printing press operations. The Weilin&Göös book publishing company was established in the 19th century to publish textbooks in Finnish.

Finland’s first teachers’ college started in Jyväskylä in 1863. However, there was no learning material for the students, as the Finnish publishing business was in its infancy. In 1872, the college’s gym teacher, teaching equipment seller K. G. Göös, and local Russian language teacher, book seller and publisher A. G. Weilin decided to start publishing and printing textbooks written by teachers at the college.

The Finnish publishing business grew from decade to decade as literacy improved and the amount of Finnish literature increased. Weilin&Göös relocated to Helsinki, and when the company outgrew its premises in the 1960s, it moved to Espoo. At the beginning of the 1960s, a small-scale industrial area, Ahertajantie and Ahertajankulma, had been built in the new garden district of Tapiola. One of the plots in Ahertajantie was sold to the Weilin&Göös printing company, which moved its entire operations to Tapiola, an area considered entrepreneur-friendly and stable.  When it was time to find an architect for the new printing house, artist Jaakko Somersalo recommended his friend Aarno Ruusuvuori to his cousin Veikko Bonsdorff, a partner owner of Weilin&Göös.

What is special about WeeGee’s architecture?
Aarno Ruusuvuori’s ingenious solutions and concrete brutalism

Designed by Professor Aarno Ruusuvuori (1924–1992), the former Weilin&Göös printing house is a trademark of Finnish constructivism that is also known internationally. The building was completed between 1964 and 1974 in three phases, the first two of which were designed by Ruusuvuori for the printing house. When he started the design work, Ruusuvuori was a 37-year-old architect and a Finnish pioneer of constructivism. Constructivism is rational architecture that highlights structures, replacing walls with glass, for example. As architects, constructivists engaged in close co-operation with the industry, since they thought that the form and content of buildings were determined by the operations conducted therein. Ruusuvuori had not designed any industrial buildings before, which was considered a benefit, as his design work was not tied to past solutions.

Construction of the first phase began in February 1963. The foundation for the design was the production process of the printing house, which required as much uninterrupted free space as possible. The machines and equipment needed to be arranged in a flexible manner. It was considered important to make working conditions as quiet as possible in the noisy printing room and take account of the opportunities provided by the environment. Wanting to connect the factory floor and its machinery seamlessly to the natural environment of Tapiola, Ruusuvuori achieved this by using large window surfaces. Direct sunlight, harmful to printing production, was eliminated in the southern façade of the building by drawing the windows of the first storey in.  The southern façade’s narrow window line and light-dispersing wood grating only let warm light in indirectly. By contrast, the entire northern façade of the building was made of glass to gain maximum benefit from the cold and steady northern light.

In addition to the light, the concrete surfaces constituted the printing house’s most important visible elements and decorations. In line with the concrete brutalist construction style typical of the 1960–70s, concrete surfaces and their various shapes were left visible without treatment. Ruusuvuori was one of the best-known Finnish brutalists, and he used the same style in the design of Tapiola Church, which was completed in 1965.

The printing house was designed using repeated units, which could be connected to each other as many times as required by the operations. In his plans, Ruusuvuori used a modular system developed in Finland by Aulis Blomstedt. As a material, concrete made it possible to create completely new kinds of load-bearing structures and shapes. One part of the printing house consists of four 27 x 27 metre units with a pylon three metres in diameter in the middle. The pylon structure enabled making the printing room a large uninterrupted space. The building’s second-storey roof is supported by eight large concrete pylons, extending four metres above the roof. The intermediate floor is supported by smaller columns. Ruusuvuori and structural designer Bertel Ekengren came up with the innovative idea of incorporating the air-conditioning system into the pylons. The pylons and their radial tension rods are also one of the building’s distinctive features that can be seen from afar.

By April 1964, the printing press was already operating. The composing room, printing room and make-up section were located on the second floor of the building. The first floor housed the reception of goods, paper storage, dressing rooms, canteen and office facilities. March 1966 saw the beginning of the second construction phase, which took a year. The third phase, designed by Bertel Ekengren, was completed in spring 1974. This newest part today houses Etelä-Tapiola Upper Secondary School, which started at WeeGee at the beginning of the 2000s. The original plan included a fourth phase, which was never constructed.

How did the Weilin&Göös printing house become Exhibition Centre WeeGee?
Change from a printing house to a museum centre

WSOY purchased Weilin&Göös in 1992 and moved its new subsidiary to Vantaa. However, the head office of Weilin&Göös remained on the third floor of the old printing house in Tapiola until the late 1990s. After the printing operations ended, the building saw many kinds of temporary activities. The second floor housed the Arena Center floorball centre on EMMA’s current premises, and the first floor had a Chinese restaurant where there are offices now. The Helinä Rautavaara Museum moved into the building in 1998 and Etelä-Tapiola Upper Secondary School in 2000. In the same year, Espoo City Museum established a new museum unit, KAMU, on the first floor of the building.

The City of Espoo purchased the property in 2001. In a large-scale reconstruction process, the building was converted into an exhibition centre in 2005. After extensive demolition and excavation work, the new building was constructed within the old frame. The precast concrete façades were revamped and dozens of new staircases and new lifts were built, along with more than 300 new rooms. A basement almost 100 metres in length was excavated under the building. The alteration had to take account of the conditions required by the museums’ collections and exhibitions as well as good services for the public.

The architectural and structural design for the alteration and renovation project was based on retaining the industrial building’s character and façades. The building’s architecture retained its exceptionally large dimensions, like the uniform façade, whose length exceeds 100 metres. The feeling of open space was kept by means of systematically combining the large main lobby and side lobbies as well as long views between the rooms. The new main lobby is a cross-section of the building. It is a large, ample space that is 18 metres wide and has a panorama view of the pine forest at one end.

The building was completed as a cultural space in late 2005. Exhibition Centre WeeGee and EMMA, the new museum of modern art, opened in 2006. At the same time, two other museums relocated to the exhibition centre: the Finnish Museum of Horology from the nearby Pohjantie and the Finnish Toy Museum from Linnanmäki. The first floor of the Exhibition Centre WeeGee was opened to the public on 13 October 2006.

Parts of the Weilin&Göös printing house are protected in the town plan, including the load-bearing structures, façades, offices at the north-eastern end, round emergency exit stairs and spacious printing room upstairs. The area in which the printing house is located, Tapiola, has been classified as a nationally significant built cultural environment by the National Board of Antiquities, the only modern site to achieve this. The building’s architecture and Tapiola garden district’s industrial heritage provide an excellent setting for the museums’ exhibitions and operations at WeeGee Exhibition Centre. The total area of the building is 23,000 square metres, of which exhibition and cultural spaces take up about 17,500 square metres. There is also a sculpture park in WeeGee’s forecourt, with permanent works of art that can also be seen from indoors through the large windows. In WeeGee’s backyard is the Futuro house, which suits the sloping plot lined by pine trees in accordance with its original function.

What was WeeGee’s change process like from the architect’s perspective?
Architect Henna Helander describes the design work 

The dozens of different user groups of the WeeGee house had different functional and technical requirements and needs. Spatial planning became a jigsaw puzzle with hundreds of pieces. In particular, the security and air conditioning requirements of the museums were very high. Security required reinforced wall structures, bars in the air-conditioning ducts, armour glazing, extensive electronic security surveillance and dozens of cameras indoors and outdoors. To achieve the right air-conditioning conditions, it was necessary to provide the façade with quadruple glazing and tailor the glass mouldings with sheet metal thermal breaks.

The feeling of open space was kept by means of systematically combining the large main lobby and side lobbies as well as long views between the rooms. The main lobby is intended as a common space with various places where you can spend time, find new things, relax for a while or get oriented for new activities.

The new glass stairwell shines in the landscape at the end of Ahertajantie. In a manner that suits Tapiola, visitors enter the WeeGee house through a small pine forest, via a new entrance patio. The patio with its light handrails and steps as well as the café terrace make it possible to use the well-lit forecourt for experimental and conventional cultural events alike.

The new architecture arose from the building’s own nature, the architectural interpretation of its new use and the prevailing economic realities.

The tight budget and construction schedule affected spatial planning, material and structural part choices, level of equipment and quality of finishing alike. The building’s architecture retained its exceptionally large dimensions, like the uniform façade, whose length exceeds 100 metres. In spite of the new space arrangements, the project managed to retain long views and passages through the building. The second-floor printing room was converted back into an open space. The structurality was highlighted by exposing the concrete beams on the second floor and removing the plastic covering from the floors. The harmonious, single-element concrete appearance was also expanded to cover the partition walls by building them from concrete blocks without any covering surfaces or mouldings.

To balance the heavy concrete parts, the spaces are punctuated by light steel/glass parts in the building’s exterior walls and interiors. The glass surfaces open long views to both other spaces and the surrounding nature. A lightening effect is provided by various colour surfaces, mainly located on the new sheet walls or concrete surfaces that had already been painted earlier.

In line with the building’s character, WeeGee’s new permanent fixtures are clear and simple, view-opening boxes, sheets and levels. Locker walls have openings and colourful recesses for sitting. 

Of the significant old structural parts of the building, the project managed to save the vertical frame system, roof girders, second-floor intermediate floor and part of the steel frames of the façades.The floor became an interpreter of the building’s history. From it, you can read the various phases of the building: the torn-down walls, new floor surfaces and steel support plates of the machines.

Since not much of the original building materials could be saved, it was necessary to choose another approach to honour the building’s character: the most important interior space, the five offices and the proportions of the structural parts in the façade were retained; the building’s own systematic regularities were interpreted in a new manner. The WeeGee house received a clear and strong, black-and-white framework for diverse activities and colourful life.

Henna Helander, Architect SAFA/Airas Arkkitehdit Ky

Find details at WeeGee

Yard area
The restaurant terrace on the southern side of the building is a former loading dock of the printing house.

Designed by Juhani Pallasmaa, a young architect from Aarno Ruusuvuori’s studio, the original logo of the Weilin&Göös printing house dates from 1964.

1st floor
In the corridor next to EMMA Shop, you can see the joint between the first and second part of the building. In 1962–64, the exterior wall was located between the columns now seen in the wall.

On the floor of KAMU’s changing exhibition, you can see the outlines of the original staff toilet facilities.

The colouring of the large window walls in the lobby is still in accordance with Jaakko Somersalo’s original colour scheme.

2nd floor
EMMA is the best place for admiring Tapiola’s nature, in the midst of which the printing house was built. Architect Ruusuvuori wanted the landscape to be seen from indoors. In addition, the large windows provided natural light to facilitate the printing work.

In EMMA’s Touch art collection exhibition, the ceiling of the “People and Power” section provides a great view of the centre point of the second part of the building: the concrete structures leading to the four large pylons form a cross.

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