Case: City Hall lobby
Future Helsinki created at City Hall lobby
The lobby of the Helsinki City Hall has been turned into an open meeting place and a platform for co-creation with the help of service design. The transformed lobby serves citizens, communities and City employees.
Visitors entering the lobby encounter an enticing scene. Inside the main entrance, they are met by a bright and inspiringly designed lounge with a seating area. The wide space is organized around a spacious meeting area – the event square. A conspicuous element of the meeting area is a digital media wall, which spans the entire width of the area and animates the area with its changing contents.
The lobby also contains areas for ad-hoc meetings as well as group and solo work. The back of the lobby accommodates meeting rooms designed according to various Helsinki themes. A water point invites visitors to help themselves to the best tap water in the world.
Other key features of the lobby are artworks, a “future corridor” and a selfie-point built with a large Helsinki logo. The lobby also leads visitors to the City Hall restaurant, which is open to the public.
“Visitors pay special attention to the openness of the space,” says Helsinki City Design Manager Päivi Hietanen.
Hietanen oversaw a yearlong transformation project, which was completed in April 2019. The project transformed the lobby’s service and spatial concepts. The interior and signage were redesigned, and digital elements were reconfigured.
“The lobby is now a completely new type of service environment. We’ve built a workspace for open and transparent development of the city. We invite citizens and stakeholders to develop the future Helsinki with us,” Hietanen comments.
The Mayor Jan Vapaavuori sought to create a space in which “The Most Functional City in the World” can be experienced by visitors. “The lobby has been transformed into exactly the kind of workspace and dynamic place for events and co-creation that we envisioned,” affirms Sanna-Mari Jäntti, Director of Strategic Initiatives.
Design thinking steering transformation
The City Hall lobby transformation was a multi-stage process. The work involved professionals from many fields but, according to the principles of service design, the work was steered by user experience – that is, the work centred on the future users of the space ranging from City employees to citizens.
The conceptual design of the lobby was launched with the design consultancy Kuudes Helsinki in the spring of 2018. The concept was created through co-creation. The work included stakeholder interviews, benchmarking and two Concept Lab workshops for employees and residents. Staff members working in the lobby were interviewed about their views and wishes. The preliminary concept was on display in an exhibit, and visitors were invited to submit feedback. For example, the idea for the water point came from a vendor at the local market place.
The design project created a new service concept for the lobby and the service promise “Welcome to create the future Helsinki”. The main user group will be the citizens of Helsinki.
The participatory design approach continued in the planning stage. Townhall sessions and workshops were organized for employees to refine the plans further on the basis of everyday needs. The furniture was also tested prior to use. The lobby interior design is by the design agency Koko3, which integrated ideas from employees into the lobby design. Architectural design is by Vertas Architects.
The new lobby concept honours the past: the 1960s’ modernist architecture of Aarno Ruusuvuori and the building’s historical features coexist seamlessly with the new concept serving the future Helsinki.
“The new service concept has brought significant changes to the operations of our staff. Design has played a key role in the success of the transformation. With participatory design, we have created a shared vision for the staff and allowed them to take ownership of the concept. Participatory design has supported the cultural change and ensured the usability of the design solutions,” Hietanen adds.
A workspace for citizens
The new City Hall lobby concept is owned by the City Executive Office’s Communications unit. The unit also manages the event square, which can be booked by citizens and employees for various events, free of charge.
Riitta Hintikka of City of Helsinki Economic Development has used the event square to organize information meetings related to the City’s and Google’s joint digital coordinator training.
Hintikka describes the new space as functional and multifaceted: “The space has helped us to create a relaxed approach at the meetings. The media wall has deepened the informational content of events.”
Participants have given spontaneous positive feedback on the space to Hintikka. She quotes some participants: ‘I had no idea that the City has such a space. It’s magnificent to have the City Hall lobby in such use!”
Text by Johanna Lemola
Photos by Laura Oja