Tampere University’s Alumna of the Year is architect and construction industry influencer Salla Eckhardt
The recipients of Tampere University’s Alumna and Alumnus of the Year award represent the expertise produced by the University and contribute to showcasing the University's impact and the important role of university alumni in society. The criteria for the recipients include pioneering work in their own fields, societal impact, and the promotion of interaction between the university, society, and alumni. From 2022, the nomination process has also included a promotional campaign where candidate proposals were sought from the university’s friends, alumni, students, and staff.
Salla Eckhardt’s nomination as Alumna of the Year 2023 was affected by her international and widely influential role as a construction industry innovator. After graduating as an architect from Tampere University of Technology, Eckhardt has worked with digital building modelling and sustainable development in both Finland and Seattle, United States. While working for Microsoft, she founded and led a new Digital Building Lifecycle and Innovation business area for the company. From 2023, Eckhardt has held the position of Senior Vice President at the design and construction performance management company OAC Services.
After the merger of Tampere University of Technology and the University of Tampere in 2019, CEO Suvi Haimi was the first Alumna of the Year of the new Tampere University followed by Prime Minister Sanna Marin in 2020, Alumnus of Year 2021 was Antti Kaunonen, President of Kalmar Automation Solutions at Cargotec, and Alumnus of 2022 was Director at Finnish Institute of International Affairs, political scientist Mika Aaltola.
Salla Eckhardt’s pioneering and international work in the construction industry and as a promoter of sustainable development and accessibility is exceptional in scope and impact. In addition to her main occupation, she actively holds key roles in several construction industry committees in the United States.
“Our alumni make visible the University’s role as a maintainer and reformer of society. Alumna of the Year Salla Eckhardt contributes to solving global-level challenges while also making Tampere-based expertise known to the world. Through her career choices, she demonstrates not only a courageous attitude but also the fact that our degrees give full potential for going far in one’s career at the international level and solving some of the most pressing challenges facing humanity,” says President Keijo Hämäläinen from Tampere University.
Salla Eckhardt says that her university studies gave her a strong foundation which enabled her to move to the United States in 2015 and to build a whole new career path.
“In my view, architects are actually social designers. People do not live in silos, and society is first and foremost a network which is why urban areas also need to be smart,” Eckhardt says.
Eckhardt finds social resilience to be one of the key goals in construction and design. The significance of this goal has been strongly underlined by recent news about forest fires, floods, and hurricanes. Eckhardt sees resilience as a global question where developing countries also play a central role. Furthermore, construction needs to be approached with a long-term, inter-generational perspective as the processes from planning to decision-making, permit processes and implementation are often very long.
“We must think carefully about what we should do to avoid amplifying existing problems and to break negative cycles. At worst, moulding the environment for people irreversibly intensifies unwanted phenomena,” Eckhardt states.
In this work, Eckhardt prioritises prevention over reaction. Building Information Models and digital building lifecycles play a significant role in meeting the goals.
“Digitalisation allows us to model, study, simulate and contemplate various models before implementation. This way, we can make decisions based on verified grounds, not on mere gut feeling. There is no longer room for surprises. Also, we must always consider the investment side of things in building production since someone always needs to pay for the undertakings. The value of money is a steering factor in everything, so all this is also about political choices,” Eckhardt says.
In addition to the global scale, Eckhardt also promotes her causes at the individual level. She wants everyone to choose empathy and goodwill in everything we do.
“Every one of us wants to live in a good, healthy, and safe environment. That is why I find it important to give everybody the opportunity to succeed and to fill their basic needs of having shelter and food. I like to talk about universal design where nobody’s accessibility is undermined,” she adds.
Her nomination as Tampere University’s Alumna of the Year took Salla Eckhardt by a complete surprise.
“The previous Alumni of the Year are incredible people and remarkable influencers. I am bewildered and flattered by my nomination. Without taking anything away from this personal recognition I also find the nomination to be something that the whole university community can share. I hope it can be used as a platform for the people coming after me and taking the same steps. Finland is a great incubator, and I am happy to keep the door open for those next in line,” Eckhardt states.
Alumna of the Year Salla Eckhardt
- Born in Tampere, Finland in 1980
- Education: Master of Science (Architecture and Structural Engineering), Tampere University of Technology, 2010
- Current position: Senior Vice President, OAC Services
- Work history:
- Director of Digital Building Lifecycle and Innovation, Microsoft
- Director of Emerging Technology & Innovation, Sellen Construction
- Digital Construction Lead, Hoffman Construction Company
- Smart City Lead, City of Tampere
- Digital Transformation Lead, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd.
- Positions of trust:
- Chair for National BIM Program Steering Committee
- Chair for Digital Twins Consortium AECO Working Group
- Chair for VR AR Association AEC Industry Chapter
- Founding Member of Building Intelligence Group, Seattle Chapter
- Lecturer and mentor
- Expertise: building lifecycle digitalisation, sustainable development, accessibility