Form once followed function. Now form follows mostly finance. And sometimes it follows fashions.
An elected few in the City’s Planning Commmittee debated tall buildings last night. They made few decisions, it seems. Today Helsingin Sanomat contributes to this public debate on a controversial and difficult issue by noting as much. It helpfully adds that tower blocks are inhabited by satisfied people.
Since there are 50 tall buildings (over 16 storeys high) in the pipeline in Helsinki, the Planning Department was commissioned to report on this and to give guidance.
So, the researchers did as they were bid. The free bit of online HS produces some of the visuals here. The paper also provides a lot in the way of short, sharp and depressingly familiarly hollow commentary.
It’s undeniable that Helsinki is incredibly sparsely populated and thus inefficient. All too often it feels empty of people.
But it’s not clear that building up is an answer. Particularly not when building up is seen to be most cost-effective in central locations. For background the report looks at the other Nordic cities and its own research. E.g. as published in Kvartti. But what does the graph above, about office rents in Stockholm and Helsinki, prove?
JHJ is more persuaded by the view that the arguments for so-called agglomeration benefits are looking a bit thin these days. Do cities really need physical infrastructural preconditions for economic growth as growth machinists used to think? Does Helsinki?
JHJ is inclined to think that speculating on public wealth – a shared city loved by so many – is a bit passe in these striking days.
But for the powers that be, the idea seems to be to turn Helsinki into a kind of bowl. Tall buildings will be allowed at the “gateways” to the city, east and west (Kalastama at Itäväylä, Jätkäsaari at Länsiväylä). Central Pasila will provide the co-ordinate to the north.
Which co-ordinate, for the record, JHJ wasn’t quite ready to argue against when it was consulted on (kind of) a year ago. Or even when first publicized 2 years ago.
Alas, the images being provided now make it clear that the effects of Zucchi’s cocktail of “sculptural” tallness, wide roads and probably unrealistic promises of street-level “vibrancy” will make JHJ’s nostalgia much, much worse. (If you didn’t spot them on the photo above, take another look.)
Meanwhile, though at street-level, Töölö’s own gem and super-agglomerator, Arkadia books, appears to be campaigning for lovely bicycles.
For another item of news that enervtated Helsinkians interested in their environment was namely that parking in central Helsinki is to become more expensive.
Amazing how many people seemed to feel sorry for folks in Töölö, even though they have the best possible public transport.
It is true that the area is losing more and more of its useful shops each year as retailers offload the cost of transport onto the car-owners. But you still can acquire most things necessary for a good life within a few blocks. Who needs a car?!
An afterthought to this post on the prospect of tall buildings in Helsinki:
In case anyone wasn’t aware, many in Helsinki are rather proud of the city’s horizontal skyline. I’m not sure Finnish architects actually turn their noses up at “wow” architecture, but it is certainly true that Helsinki fans, from home and away, are quick to praise the way the city has retained its low-rise silhuette. Many of us are also grateful for the city’s sense of human scale. And for the way Helsinki’s light (or lack of it!) looks so stunning in the low-rise environment.
So, to the architects and engineers out there, is there really no way of making Helsinki more dense without dotting it with high-rise “teeth” (as we Finns say)?