I relied on rather out-of-season photos to share images of the now abandoned former harbour sites I blogged about last. Here’s a more recent one.
It’s taken from Kalasatama metro station looking south-west. I was on my way to Suvilahti power station, a beautiful piece of real city architecture. Selim Lindqvist designed the reinforced concrete frontage of the coal-powered facility – pioneering such construction methods in Finland. This was the rapidly expanding working class/ industrial district of Sörnäinen, or Sörkka, from where power could be transmitted both to local needs and across the city’s electricity grid. It began operations in July 1909, according to Helsinki Energy’s informative website.
Later, even more modern facilities, (picture further down), were built alongside at Hanasaari. But still, neither the old nor the new could escape the notice of us residents, we had a daily reminder that our lifestyles are linked in with these great, fuel-hungry machines. Then in 1976 operations ceased at Suvilahti and it went for a while not really knowing what it was for.
Then came along post-industrial urban regeneration! Kaapeli, or the Cable Factory, was one of the first places in Finland that followed the trajectory of former industrial or manufacturing site converting into a culture centre.
Which explains why I was on my way to Suvilahti last week – scuppered by the snow on the capacious site where soil remediation is turning routes that were open a month earlier into smelly-looking playgrounds for vicious-looking machines. So little did they look like the kinds of things you’d want to mess with, that I didn’t even photograph them! Well no, that’s not quite the reason. I was in a hurry. So I thought I’d ‘cut through’ behind a building and up around the gasometer and up to the road and in through the advised entrance on Sörnäisen Rantatie. I saw and followed some footprints but way before reaching my destination, I was waist-deep in snow. Back I turned, around I went, briskly enough to allow a shot of how close I’d been to that potential short cut.
But I’m taking you around the houses now when I wanted to make a couple of observations about Suvilahti. It’s owned by the city but Kaapeli has been asked to manage it. It is slowly being transformed into something that feels right, a cultural centre and a place for creative people who aren’t necessarily “creatives” (you can see what I mean from an earlier post on this). Though we’ll see how it all goes, JHJ tries, after all, not to be overly gullible.
The event I went to was part of the British Council’s Future City Game tour, their way of riding the creative cities bandwagon. Joining forces with the environmental organisation Dodo, they hosted a series of events at Suvilahti itself, generating ideas for how it should/could be developed.
As is so often the case with this kind of thing, it’s all got to be fun, hence the “game” as way to get interested parties around the same table to think through real or imagined but often shared problems. There’s a video of a British Council game in Moscow here. Older versions of a probably good but much abused idea include planning-for-real, design charrettes, participatory design …
At Suvilahti the tone was set by guest speaker Paul Bogen, a cultural centre manager now involved in Trans Europe Halles a network of European cultural centres in regenerated buildings. His opening was refreshingly sceptical. More or less, it went something like this:
we’re obsessed with turning these old factories into parts of the knowledge economy. And what happens? We get creative quarters, clusters, incubators … how does it affect people who live and work there? Then he went on to go through the usual cycle where a run down area gets taken over by arty types, becomes a cultural area and gets gentrified and cool, and thus interesting to property developers. Evenutally the rich people come and they don’t use the cultural centre. Something like that, he said (from my notes).
This, we here at JHJ felt was a particularly useful way to introduce this topic in Helsinki.
The representative from Dodo, Päivi Ravio, then told us some heart-warmin things about what the “games” held earlier in the winter had taught the organisers. It produced something like a “free from” shopping list, only here not free from allergens or toxins, but free from stifling commercialism and branding.
Participants had wanted no blocking the unique identity of the place with brand-name styling (somewhat challenging to translate the new anti-consumerist slang – I’m working on it). Regenerating to death should be avoided but lots of outdoor space and facilities should be made available. People wanted it to become a child-friendly place for adults to hang out, a playground for open, reckless culture that’s far from commercialism. The Flow Festival and other events that take place should be kept low-key enough to avoid being smothered in commercial priorities. New forms of ownership and management need to be created or unearthed. Experimentation and doing stuff is the key – there shouldn’t be an imperative to succeed.
JHJ will keep an eye on this. The politics, the place, the history, are really rather interesting. We hope the power stations, old and new, are never made over to suit designer and design boutiques, but will keep Helsinki how and where it needs to be. Grounded.
p.s. you can see Hanasaari from Kamppi too