Narrator: Did you know that the Finnish Association of Architects or SAFA gave out its annual prize for commendable sustainable architecture today? It didn’t go to architects but to the “small but peppery” (pieni mutta pippurinen and that’s a quote from the press release) environmental organisation, Dodo. Gratifying to see that YLE reported it too.
Protagonist: Dodo? Those the guys who did that urban gueriilla gardening last summer?
N: The very same. The committee commended Dodo for its work
Dodo on tuonut tervehdyttävän humanistisen vireen teknisesti painottuneeseen keskusteluun ja avannut uusia näkymiä kaupunkisuunnitteluun,
or, my loose translation:
Dodo has brought a healthy dose of humanism to a debate that’s often technologially biased and it has opened new perspectives on urban planning.
P: Nice to hear architects can appreciate ordinariness too. Not that guerilla gardening and the energy needed to run an organisation like Dodo are ordinary …. I’m really pleased for Dodo and for Safa.
N: You don’t look so happy though.
P: I’m pondering what’s going on with Architecture, capital A, in Finland. It used to be that it went with the grain, the environment. But now it’s full of this iconic stuff, being bold, and making a statement, not being content with the ordinary. The latest conversations about this are around the question of how to use up the space in Töölö Bay, where should they put a new library, one to catch the attention of the whole of Europe. Big, eye-catching and expensive, or something else? And if it’s not iconic, it doesn’t care about or recognise specifics, like the fact that Finland is in the north, the seasons are really different, and that if you have restaurant or cafe seating outside you want it in the sunshine, otherwise you need to produce the weather too.
N: Designer sunshine? You’re not talking about the plans for the Senate Square by any chance are you?
P: Among other crimes, yes. They’ll have to use those awful gas heaters at the very least. Yeuch. But hey, that’s a relatively small crime. It’s the expensive, difficult-to-manage massive and eye-catching stuff that Helsinki has so far been blessedly free from that’s the real problem.
N: As you’ve been pointing out on this blog. But hey, isn’t that the standard these days? Isn’t everyone aiming to make a grand statement with buildings now? Architecture IS starchitecture – otherwise it’s just a bicycle shed – or whatever.
P: Maybe. Still, London’s Design Museum has two great exhibitions at the moment that praise the small, respecful and still breathtakingly beautiful. They seem to start from the premise that actually we’re in an age of austerity now and better live with it. One of them is on Dieter Rams, the industrial designer whose Braun electrical goods are on show – and if like me you were a kid in the 1970s, you’ll recognise from your childhood kitchen. Seems to me he could have been a Finn. His approach chimes with what I do think is, or was, a widespread view in Finland, that design is better when it doesn’t shout. And perhaps that architecture is better when it goes about giving pleasure, shelter and form without screaming about it. And when it functions. Less is more…
N: And the other exhibition is about David Chipperfield?
P: Yes. Beautiful stuff.
N: Does it have anything to do with Helsinki?
P: Not really. It just reminded me of the potential of quiet, thoughtful architecture, David Chipperfield, that is. Quite different from what we’ve had on earlier posts on Designer hotels in the shape of the design of the Swiss flag. More the kind of stuff that would enhance the natural cycles and human pleasures that Helsinki still has to offer. And by the way, it’s cycles and pleasures that Dodo are all about.