If you have time on your hands before the coming week-end, you could do worse than to pop into the Elephant block, one of the soon-to-be-upgraded elements of the infamous Senate Square refurbishment, to catch the end-0f-year show of the Aalto University of Art and Design’s MA students.
There are over 80 displays in a range of styles and themes, but it’s all about the city, in four categories, “enhanced city”, “emotionally designed”, “second skin” and “slow art”. Don’t let the w***y words put you off, the contents do lift the spirit.
So too does the use of the old building even though its earlier glamour has long gone. It served for decades as an administrative building and its the traces of this – fire doors, peeling paint (Finland has it too) and long corridors mostly – that are most in your face. All of which serves the puprposes of the City quite well. The non-elected “regeneration team” or development company Helsingin Leijona can only benefit from demonstrating how shoddy these buildings are and how surely the bling of 21st-century consumerism beats local government bureucrats’ needs hands down. If I’d stayed a local government bureaucrat I’d not have minded the location, must be said.
Of course that isn’t where the students normally hang out. They are in Arabia, home of the School of Art and Design, still known as Taik and formerly known as Atski (because it once operated in the buildings of the Ateneum near the Railway Station). Arabia is where a ceramics and glass factory of that name was built by a Swedish entrepreneur in the 1870s, where it now has a museum and factory outlets, and where a new urban-ish neighbourhood has sprung up in just a little over ten years. (Urban-ish and not urban because it lacks street life because it lacks intelligent retail planning, but I’ll leave that for another post.)
As you can see in the photo, life in the area is suppported, inevitably, by a hole in the ground for cars.
Walking around after the end of the semester the place felt a little empty and forlorn even in the warm sunshine. On top of which the labyrinth of old and new buildings with very little signage left me wondering where I might actually be able to enter the main Taik (Aalto) building, or in fact, which is the main Taik building. Is it the multicultured metal box by Pentti Kareoja / Ark-House Architects? Or the Lume building by the omnipresent Heikkinen-Komonen architects with its long corridor tantalisingly inviting behind the glass and … the locked door?
No matter. The City have worked out that this is an ineresting place for those well-educated tourists with an interest in Finnish Design and Architecture to go for a walk, and so they have produced a guide in English that you can download here.
And anyway, once I did find my way inside, despite having to negotiate more slogans, I found some really helpful folks.