Narrator: So why are you so het up about Kamppi?
Protagonist: Because it’s wrong, it was one huge missed opportunity. And, what makes me so irritated, that it comes from the pen (well, you know what I mean) of one of my favourite Finnish architects.
N: The press hasn’t complained. And the shiny new guide to the Helsinki region’s architecture is glowing. Here, listen. It says it’s called Kamppi because it was once a military training ground, and that it is now, and I quote from this publication, “a lively combination of shops and offices, central apartments and a bus terminal. Because the long distance coach station, the Espoo bus terminal, car parks and maintenance premises were located underground, the quality and scale of the pedestrian environment improved decisively. Kamppi Centre is easily accessible by public transport. This miniature city within the central area can be reached by foot, metro underground railway and bus.”
I rest my case.
P: Where do I start? Can I quote stuff back at you maybe?
N: Why not, but can we have some reasoned arguments against that description first?
P: Yes, it’s lively – Friday and Saturday nights it’s a party zone or, more accurately, drinking zone. It’s lively too because, for goodness sake, if you live in Espoo and work here you have little choice but to walk through its glass doors every day. And yes, the pedestrian environment was a bit poor in the old days. It was a blimmin’ field of tarmac after all, with the buses lined up diagonally from end to end. But you could see the sky. You felt connected to Fredrinkinkatu as well as Mannerheim’s statue at the other end. You had a wonderful station building, with real people and genuine help just one step away from the platforms, visible as soon as you entered the area from any direction. But yes, I admit, it’s the seeing the sky that’s the problem. And the fact that I was hoping vainly that Helsinki might avoid the terrible fate that’s befallen all other supposedly successful cities recently, of becoming one giant shopping experience.
N: I see what you mean. Not a lot of sky here.
P: No. Some engineer has obviously worked out how to build underground, kind of like H.G. Wells in his sci fi dystopias from almost 100 years ago. Yes, in a cold city it’s useful from time to time to escape the wind and the sleet into an underground passage way, but did you know there’s now actually an underground zoning plan here, so much of the granite is being blasted to kingdom come?
Kamppi is a symbol for me of forgetting that the city is to be lived, not seen. The work that you used to see being done all around has been hidden underground. All the services, deliveries, maintenance of sewage and electric grids and what have you, all the men in work clothes have been banished from the city centre.
N: You mean like with the docks?
P: Yes, yes, yes. Exactly. This city has become a shrine to consumer capitalism basically.
N: Gawd. Here we go…
P: No, I’m serious. Jonathan Glancy incidentally wrote something just like that in last week’s Building Design. Here, take a look. “Where once cities, their culture and their architecture, were defined by what they did, or made, today they are just as likely to be recognised for what they show, or serve up, as pure spectacle.”
P: Well, that’s a bit of an academic fashion word, has been for some decades. You know, images, surfaces, facades being more important than the real thing, shiny and attractive so that passers by will drop by and buy.
N: Yup, Kamppi certainly provides for the shopaholic, twice a day at least, if they’re commuters. Plus the side of the shopping centre is covered in advertising, those constantly moving images that make you feel a bit ill. Times Square or Piccadilly Circus in London. We’ve arrived!
P: You’ve got it! So, forget that fancy language, the point is that the old bus station was a genuinely public space, kind of open, you’d bump into people you knew, people you didn’t and you’d see people that otherwise you never would come into contact with. You’d see all those people at work too. Kamppi is closed, in every possible way. Besides, it’s not a city within a city, it’s a blimmin’ transport hub! Well, I suppose it symbolises exactly what Glancy talks about, that all we do these days is shop and for those who don’t, there will be no space in the city. But it’s so wrong, so wrong. Shopping and marketing is just a small part of what life is about – even in a city.
Here, let me quote some more, from this Finnish urban theorist, Panu Lehtovuori, who in turn is quoting a philosopher of life chappy, Zygmunt Bauman, who (I’m getting there) says that recently built urban spaces, like Kamppi, are public but not civil. ‘Those spaces for organised entertainment are characterised by a “redundancy of interaction”, lack of friction togetherness and any deeper reason to communicate.’
N: So you’re suggesting that your experience of the litter and the generally unpleasant visual side of this square isn’t the fault of the people but that the space somehow makes people want to be uncivil and uncommunicative?
P: Sigh. Yes. Kind of. Except that, like I said, it’s built by a fabulous architect, and I don’t understand what happened there. Gotta go. I’m so sad.
N: See ya.