Time and Place (or H:ki squeezes into English-language architectural press)

One of the problems with the now scuppered hotel scheme for Helsinki’s Katajanokka, was that the architects (Pierre and Jacques) didn’t demonstrate much local knowledge. Someone with local knowledge of how the area works over time, day to day, season to season, was bound to balk not just at the visual impact of the thing. They were also bound to try to get their heads around how a starchitectural hotel would effect the traffic bottlenecks on the way to what is still an island, and what it would do to the visual arc created by the buildings around the market place, and consider how the market itself would be affected and, of course, they would appreciate the length of shadows in this part of the world.

The area in question is, perhaps, a planner’s nightmare, particularly now that urban space is so definitely, so unutterably commercially, a luxury that a public can only afford, apparently, if it’s provided in partnership with a private “developer”. (I refer you to my short course on entrepreneurial urban governance a while back). In fact, the area is an “urban fragment” according to architecture writer Malcolm Quantrill that even the venerable Alvar Aalto himself struggled with (… my reading of the text finds no trace of irony in this observation by Quantrill …) when he designed the Enso-Gutzeit “palazzo” sticking out of Kanavaranta. That building (the original white [sugar] cube?) has been causing double-takes and not a little disgust at modern architecture  since 1961. Originally Aalto had envisaged – along with many others – something grander, more central to the nation’s collective memory and its future, a parliament building for the site. Alas, what resulted, in the view of many a Helsinkian, was a fragment in the sense of something violently detached from its surrounding, connected whole. In 1993 though, another government building was completed up the street, by Olli Pekka Jokela, which goes some way towards repairing the sense of brokenness (in the pic above the white facade; peeking just above the now-redundant terminal building in the pic below).

Quantrill’s otherwise intriguing text reads as if he didn’t know Helsinki too well either, since he writes that it’s a city which lacks a sense of “downtown”. Either he never made arrangements to meet under the clock at Stockmann (see picture below) or things have changed since the piece was written, one assumes either late 1970s or 1980s. As a native I can guarantee that downtown definitely is there, and it definitely reaches, if not all the way to the Kajatanokka waterfont site, at least to the tram stop at Manta (whose future is, alas, shrowded in the mysteries of the Planning Department’s illogical or at least elusive argumentation).

From his London perspective Jonathan Glancey, on the other hand, has a powerful sense of what is lost if global fashions take over and destroy the times and places that urban (and other) folks dwell in. Writing with his usual forthrightness and wit in Building Design today, he notes that Stockholm is under threat of the “world class city” treatment and adds that Helsinki is too:

This means historic buildings being vandalised to ensure they suit the needs of wilfully vulgar global “brand” shops, the rerouting of trams from the historic centre because these, apparently, aren’t best suited to tourist-oriented “pedestrianisation” schemes and the loss of a culture famous for fighting off invaders and going its own happily modest way. “World class cities” spells architectural bombast, bling and banality.

At least the Vikings look as if they’re sharpening their locally forged swords ready to fight for a true sense of place.
Read more: http://www.bdonline.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=427&storycode=3162340&channel=427&c=1#ixzz0ltZOQ1Re

Well, since it’s arguable whether Finns are Vikings (Fenno-Ugric types is a more common attribution) we hope this doesn’t suggest that Finns are doing something in CONTRAST to Swedes.

Below, the Sokkers clock during that bi-annual (twice a year) bout of madness.

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