Plenty of theres there in Helsinki

If Manta (that’s Valgren’s Havis Amanda’s nickname) could turn around a little further on her pedestal, she’d be able to see the stretch of now underused waterfront that’s caused such a stir in Helsinki.

On which note Helsinkians can heave a sigh of relief over the possiblility that waterfront redevelopment of the gentrifying and/or tourist-tattifying kind will at least be slowed down if not definitely shelved. That’s to say, if some piece of starchitecture does go up on that hard-to-access plot in Katajanokka it won’t be because of an oversight but the result of a carefully pondered-over decision made by elected as well as appointed “representatives” of the citizenry. Of course, the citizenry will also have to cope with whatever the planning committee comes up with after next Thursday’s meeting at which major, major changes to the look and the transport links around the Senate Square are to be discussed. Not that details of coming decisions are available on Helsingin Leijona’s website or on the “current proposals” or even “on view now” menu of the Planning Department’s site. Watchful citizens, mindful of the possibility of megalomaniac rebranding schemes in stone, steel and glass are certainly being kept busy!

Meanwhile starchitecture is recognised as a bit of a handicap in the international architectural media – if the UK’s weekly, Building Design qualifies as such. Proving that lumpiness (as we discussed earlier) and all the over-crowding that goes with it is highly developed within the architectural profession, BD reports that when Peter Eisenman, deconstructivist theorist and architect from over the water went to Edinburgh recently to give a lecture, crash barriers were needed to control the mob… Even more eye-catching is what the great man had to say, apparently, about architecture’s role in creating zeitgeist or sense of place (genius loci):

Contemporary architecture expresses neither, he argued. Vegas — a phantasm of Parises and Hiltons conjured up in the middle of nowhere — is the quintessence of the contemporary city. It could be anyplace, anytime.

Well, the designer hotel scheme that’s now temporarily on hold (as mentioned in earlier post-s) certainly had something of the iciness of an old-fashionedly cold Helsinki winter, but other than that, it looks exactly like the kind of contemporary architecture that is conceived for anyplace, anytime. So much for contemporary. It rather reminds me of Gertrude Stein’s remark about Oakland, “there’s no there there“.

And old? Architects may not like it, but the old often has a strong grip on everybody else and often helps sustain if not create the “there” that folks get attached to. If they find it hard to attach to novelties, that’s understandable (and has caused much architecture-critical ink to be spent), and sometimes architects could acknowledge their own role in making the public be so critical of their gimmickery and fashion consciousness. Architectural productions stick around for us to have to live with. Buildings that on reflection we don’t like so much after all, can’t be discarded or replaced that easily.

But here’s some we like, not perfect, not new, but definitely magical in the quiet of a Wednesday evening. Just one of the many, many “theres” that are (still) there in Helsinki.

1 Comment

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One response to “Plenty of theres there in Helsinki

  1. You seem to be taking a very sensible stand against a kind of one size fits all approach to designing buildings, that holds the environment into which they are to be slotted as irrelevant. It’s what we might call the Martini approach to architecture — any time, any place, anywhere…

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