I wonder if this nifty little trucks was shovelling snow off the streets last winter? Here it is on a summer outing behind/in front of the Finlandia Hall. The entrance to this building is curiously tucked away, hugging the earth, and you don’t even really know which is front, which is back. Which is just as well, since the landscape around may yet alter what we think of as the primary entrance.
Zooming into the photo brings me to the actual topic of the day (of the decade, of the Finnish memory span?): Alvar Aalto himself, the undeniably brilliant architect whose international reputation far eclipses that of any other Finnish architect.
The text reads: “New Wave” (which is a pun on Aalto’s name, aalto = wave). Then it tells you that the Hall will soon have over 22000 sq metres of new space for exhibitions, conferences and banquetting etc. Due to be opened in 2011.
We can’t avoid being reminded that Helsinki will be celebrating design in 2012 in a big way. Plans are popping up all over the place to develop spaces to devote to celebrating this most Finnish of things. A good number of these plans are riding the same wave.
Yesterday Aalto featured in the editorial of our main newspaper. As much as it distresses one to have to quote Helsingin Sanomat, Finland’s peculiar and easy-to-dislike media behemoth, I have no choice. It makes the news as much as reports it. This goes for cultural activities in particular which Hesari, via the critics who write for it, has famously shaped over the decades.
From Aimo Nissi's website, aimonissi.fi
The editorial commented on the charitable foundation named after the arhictect and designer AA, which is proposing to reopen a café in central Helsinki. It was inside Rautatalo, right next to the Academic Bookshop and across the street from Stokmann’s. (That’s the Keskuskatu entrance, so brashly pedestrianised last year.)
Vuonna 1955 valmistuneen talon ydin on rakennuksen sisään kätketty Marmoripiha, kolme kerrosta korkea avoin tila, johon Aalto hahmotteli kahvilan sekä sitä reunustamaan liike- ja toimistotiloja.
(And my translation:) The core of the building, completed in 1955, is the three-story Marmoripiha (Marble Court) hidden inside, and for which Aalto conceived a café and office and retail space to surround it.
… As so often happens in Central Business Districts, land values offered opportunities that the owners could not resist. They set rents so high that even the poshest café couldn’t pay them.
But, four years ago the building came under the control of four big Finnish cultural Foundations
Rautatalo siirtyi neljä vuotta sitten jälleen sitten uusiin käsiin, kun Wihurin ja Kordelinin säätiöt, Kulttuurirahasto sekä Alkon eläkesäätiö ostivat sen.
The proposal by the Aalto Foundation to return the Marble Court to the good citizens of Helsinki is, according to the editorial, grounded in Helsinki’s imminent design capital role. But the paper notes that such excuses are hardly necessary.
We here at JHJ agree with this sentiment. We also wholeheartedly agree with our blogging friend Arkkivahti who has kept her watch well. Hesari namely already wrote about the café on 4.7. Arkkivahti picked up on the same peculiarity (silliness?) of the article as we did.
“Few in this city remember the stylish…” and so on, the paper wrote. Humbug!!!
Arkkivahti makes it quite clear that in the 1980s this was a space where snobs of all kinds could hang out and feel comfortable – architecture students (we don’t know if Arkkivahti wore black in those days) alongside Swedish-speaking girls in pastel-coloured angora sweaters and pearl necklaces (I knew at least one myself). I can’t remember whether this inside space ever hosted a wino of the more common variety, or whether there was anything approximating a security man or a CCTV. But in my memory it was a remarkable place: an inside space purely for consumption purposes where, despite its commercialism, something approximating a public realm was created day after day, year after year.
Until, of course, the meltdown of the early 1990s.
Memory may serve less well in this regard, but was branding quite such an issue in those days? Could Café Columbia (how could that name have fallen into disuse!?) survive today? It provides an impeccable interior, analysed carefully by architecture students and researchers the world over, it seems. Could it all survive again on good coffee plus quality retail that sells to folks who do style more than fashion (whether black or pastel coloured)?
Well, the idea is to create a design centre there. Somewhat odd, we feel, that the Aalto Foundation has had to brand its project as Aamu, another word game using the first syllable of the Finnish word for designing, “muotoilla”. Aa-Mu…
Or did you stumble on this page because you tagged Aalto thinking it was well known because it’s a trendy wine? And gets to the top of the phone book?