The new Aalto University

It was to great fanfare in Finland, and oddly, very little elsewhere, that the opening of a new university was announced earlier today.  Aalto University, named after the great Finnish architect — and to my knowledge, the first ever named for an architect — merged three other institutions in a kind of enormous Bauhaus model: the Helsinki School of Economics, the University of Art and Design Helsinki and the Helsinki University of Technology (

The event provides, I think, several major points for reflection, particularly here in the U.S., where such institutional-scale humanistic thinking is not even on life support. That the merger of economics, art, design, and technology should find a physical manifestation is not surprising, given the fact that many overlaps of this Venn diagram already exist through the work of pioneering groups, publications and individuals, most of whom are underfunded and fly under the radar of their home or larger institutions (the Electronic Literature Organization; dichtung-digital;; ubuweb, and many others).  The presence, within the inauguration of the new Aalto University, of the Finnish president and prime minister signal the highest-possible top-down sanction of the spirit that Scandinavian modernity represent, and which is, and should remain, the model for progress, if by such we mean the possibility of a reflective technology, rather than a view of technology understood and utilized only in a primeval instrumental form.

The Media Lab Helsinki (, now part of the School of Art and Design of the new Aalto University is in the new Department of Media, whose charter mentions its “commitment towards the development of new formats and genres in art and design. In the digital media, these genres find their immediate form of expression in the interaction of the human agent with the digital matter through the interface.”

A major part of the commitment involves the embrace — for better or worse — of the American-style model of faculty employment, coming with a large number of new hires:

One of the most significant single investments in Aalto University will be tenure track, a career path system based on international models. Starting this year, Aalto University will be opening 20-40 new tenure track positions annually. The adoption of the tenure track model will guarantee continuous renewal, and also internationalization of the university, Teeri pointed out.