ADDLAB puts the digital revolution into action in Aalto University
In the midst of red-bricked mechanical engineers’ shops in the Otaniemi campus of Aalto University beams a hall painted bright white. Above the door hang the similarly white letters ADD. On my first visit, the lobby and the yard were full of researchers and students knee-deep in their conversations. A lecture by the already legendary structural engineer Klaus Bollinger was about to begin.
Next time I march in to interrupt a meeting of ADDLAB’s the six-person staff of. The director of the laboratory of digital design in Aalto University, Kivi Sotamaa pours me some coffee and starts to talk about the ground ADDLAB is going to break.
The idea of a novel laboratory combining digital design, material science and solid technology expertise was born, when Sotamaa realised in the end of the 00s that Aalto University was taking shape. In a university bringing together science, technology, art and economy, Sotamaa saw a need for discussion and activity in digital technology and the future of design and manufacturing.
– Finland was then lacking conversation about the paradigm shift digital technology was going to cause, and about the importance of mastering digital design. The strong technology research infrastructure in Finland should be merged with international knowledge of design, sums up Sotamaa the initial idea behind ADDLAB.
– From industrial mass production we are moving towards individual iteration production enabled by digital technology. Our material environment can be designed locally but manufactured globally – digital design will revolutionise the material industries.
Sotamaa thinks Aalto University has high quality expertise in material sciences, particularly thanks to Professor Olli Ikkala’s nano research group. ADDLAB wants to weld together the triangle of which digital design, manufacturing technologies and materials of the new generation make the sides. This way the future of our built environment can be made – from furniture and household appliances to buildings, vehicles and urban environments.
Corporate collaboration makes sense of the world
ADDLAB is still under construction: the hall next door will soon house a new design infrastructure – a space, tools and people for experimental research. Under way are a robotics workshop, a programming studio and the licensing of the Material ConneXion materials library as a part of ADDLAB.
– We are creating a research ecosystem in which mechatronics engineers can hack existing machines with new software, to build tools in cooperation with companies.
Sotamaa also tells about a significant software collaboration with a major company in the field. The company will donate to ADDLAB a series of powerful computers and their entire range of spectrum software with which control everything from digital design to manufacturing.
– We create new ways of operation for companies in our projects. By tightly incorporating companies into what we do, we can guarantee our societal impact. Taking on practical projects with companies is a condition for making any sense of the world.
A white space ship lands on an industrial district – opens a café
Sotamaa and his team want to add a mentality of experimentation into the research and teaching in Aalto University. The open-for-all series of lectures, ADDTHOUGHT, has seen visits by the international elite of digital designers, exactly the likes of Klaus Bollinger. ADDLAB’s courses are also available for anyone by portfolio application.
– We want to spark conversation, initiate events and education and this way hopefully raise professionals inside ADDLAB.
Sotamaa is equally open for research ideas: projects in par with ADDLAB’s philosophy will be taken off the ground. Sotamaa insists on keeping ADDLAB small, agile and uncompromising.
– Being small is no hindrance; nowadays it doesn’t pay off to compete with size. We operate with a very singular mission and focus. We make sure that our projects meet professional standards and address the digital paradigm shift in design. This way we can make something unique happen far away from the central hubs of the world.
With its clear white office spaces, ADDLAB seems like a space ship landed in the middle of factory buildings that are taking the final breaths of the industrial age.
– We are in between the digital and the industrial world, on a clean slate of our own, open for possibilities.
ADDLAB will soon reach out to its neighbours informally as well: its lobby will see “the best café in Espoo”. It will make baristas out of engineers and offer a space of amiable encounters across disciplines and titles.
– The café is part of the overall infrastructure of research and education we aim to build in Aalto University.
In the photo: Raduma, Heikki Sjöman, Florencia Colombo and Kivi Sotamaa from left to right.
Director of ADDLAB Kivi Sotamaa
kivi.sotamaa [at] aalto [dot] fi
tel. +358 50 511 2642
Text: Tapio Reinekoski