32 newly polished crystal chandeliers sparkle in the historic halls of the Old Academy Building in Turku. The walls are adorned with gilt-framed portraits of previous Presidents of the Turku Court of Appeal. The oldest is from 1623, when the Court of Appeal was founded.
This listed building, protected by the National Board of Antiquities, has been through a considerable renovation process. The aim of the renovation that took almost three-years was to make the premises of the Old Academy Building more functional and modern, while respecting the historical building. During the process, the working environment of the Turku Court of Appeal was also updated to match current digital requirements.
The Old Academy Building is one of the most noteworthy examples of Gustavian, neoclassical architecture in Finland. Tarja Hietamäki, Construction Project Manager at Senate Properties, says that renovating listed buildings comes with a whole host of challenges. Each stage was carefully recorded. If someone was drilling an old wall, they would also document what they could see and what they did.
“The whole building is listed, including the fittings. The National Board of Antiquities was very heavily involved in the project. We faced many choices that we discussed together – anything from structural solutions to which decade to use as inspiration when choosing the colours for the walls. We decided on the subdued and earthy colours of the 1970s. The customer, i.e. the Turku Court of Appeal, was also involved to an unusual degree in designing the premises.”
According to Hietamäki, one of the most important starting points was that the staff of the Turku Court of Appeal, who were previously located at three different addresses, would be able to work under one roof.
“The biggest changes took place on the second floor, where the office space was completely renovated: we removed the chipboard walls from the 1970s and build new offices. Now the Old Academy Building contains workstations for the entire staff consisting of just over 100 people.”
A digital leap in the session halls
The last time the Old Academy Building was renovated was in the 1970s, so it was high time to update all the technical systems: the water and sewer pipes, the ventilation and the electricity. The rooms were also made more accessible.
One of the main goals of the renovation was to introduce digital technology to the Court of Appeal’s session halls on the ground floor. There are seven halls in total, and they all have new fittings, furnishings and technical systems.
ICT was also installed to support modern ways of working. The sessions can now be recorded, and witnesses can be heard via remote video links. There are two large screens on the walls of each hall, the judges have their own smaller screens, and there are microphones and other necessary equipment on all tables. The PA system was replaced, and the acoustics were improved.
“The only thing we slightly compromised on was the size of the session halls. The halls are quite small, and because the ground floor and first floor of the building are historical, we did not change the room layout. For safety reasons we installed emergency exits in the walls of a few of the session halls as these are required by law. We also built a few new walls on the first floor to increase the number of offices, but nothing was knocked down.”
According to Hietamäki, early on in the process they decided that they would not touch the original ceilings. That meant that all technology, cables and ventilation ducts mainly had to be fitted under the floor. All the floors were taken up, the old sand and moss which had been used as insulation was removed, and new parquet floors were laid.
The ceremonial Hall is featured in the film Iron Sky
All the listed rooms and halls of the Old Academy Building are impressive, each in their own way. In addition to the chandeliers, the rooms also contain antique furniture and different styles of tiled stoves.
According to Hietamäki, it was a surprisingly huge effort to move the furniture away for the renovation.
“Some of the tables, chairs and other furnishings were moved into storage elsewhere. Every chandelier was taken down, placed in a support stand and carefully cleaned. There were lots of heavy cabinets in the halls. The largest furniture was moved into the entrance hall of the Ceremonial Hall in the Old Academy Building. We were afraid to move them any further than that. Luckily nothing was damaged.”
Some of the building’s gems are the magnificent Plenary Hall and the neoclassical Ceremonial Hall, which plays host to a variety of events, such as concerts, meetings, degree ceremonies and weddings.
“The Ceremonial Hall and the two halls on the first floor, the Consistory Hall and the Alexander Hall, do not belong to the Court of Appeal, and are hired out as function rooms. They can be hired for corporate and private functions,” explains Hietamäki.
The Ceremonial Hall has often been called the most beautiful hall in Finland. It has mostly retained its original features from the 1800s, and it boasts plenty of architectural details. Soon, the splendid hall will be seen on the big screen in Timo Vuorensola’s sci-fi adventure Iron Sky: The Ark.
One of the most central scenes of the film, which features Hollywood star Andy García, was filmed in the Ceremonial Hall of the Old Academy Building of Turku in January 2018. The rest of the film was filmed in China.