Cost-effective everything

Starchitecture or “wow” (“wau” in Finnish) architecture may not be as popular as it once was. But then again, here‘s Frank Gehry taking a few liberties with the cityscape – crumpled brown paper bags in his project for Sydney’s new Business School. Or was it Technology School.

Business, technology? What difference does it make, education like everything else exists to make profit – obviously.

The Australians are clearly copying Finland’s very own Aalto University. Here business and technology are being blended into one another in the name of a more hopeful future, even as the designers at what used to be Helsinki’s School of Art and Design (the third leg of the unholy tripod) do what they can to resist.

As yet we have no inkling of where, if anywhere, the Aalto behemoth will build a campus. The economics students don’t want to leave Töölö, the engineers still have the concrete legacy of Alvar Aalto and an epoch of solid and proud craftsmanship to enjoy in Otaniemi, and the design students have their own bohemian-cum-futurist space in Arabia‘s “Art and Design City”.

Since universities these days are being made in the image of businesses, perhaps one of Finland’s favourite corporate building designers, Helin & Co Architects, will be asked to come up with something. Their library attached to Espoo’s Sello shopping mall (for a mall it is, American-style) is rather splendid and well used (right).

Alas, business seems to have a corrosive effect on architecture and hence on our everyday surroundings. Its logic, after all, makes it necessary to be efficient or rather, cost-effective. In practice that means that public and shared buildings should be as cheap as possible. It’s official. After all – what other point is there to competitive tendering? Building cheaply is an international trend that’s not gone unnoticed. It produces pretty shoddy streetscapes that perhaps we deserve, as our British friend Jonathan Glancey wrote recently.

And (for Finnish readers) today’s Vihrea Lanka takes a view on Helin & Co’s contribution to public architecture in Helsinki, the Little Parliament with its Visitors’ Centre (below on the left, picture from 4 years ago). The building, completed in 2004, is falling apart at the seams the paper says. The columnist does, of course, find a silver lining in this sorry tale – the Little Parliament definitely has the effect of boosting employment in the construction sector: as Estonian builders flow to Finland as part of a cost-effective global labour supply, security requirements in the Finnish Parliament mean at least a few jobs are reserved for good patriots. (Or did I misunderstand that last paragraph? This can’t be true. Can it?)

P.S. Just after finishing that I came across this confirmation of the above ideas, from a volume edited by Bruno Latour and Peter Webel called Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy. In it, Teresa Hoskyns writes about the problematic field of spatial politics with specific reference to Europe’s parliament building:

“Here politicized public spaces, the common parts of the city that architecture and politics once inhabited, are impoverished in favor of individual society. Public architectural development is a discussion that relates to the common good …”

Actually, Hoskyns is talking about the way spaces is made available for democratic debate (agonism) but still, thought I’d share the reference. JHJ


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  1. Pingback: Knowledge City | Jees Helsinki Jees

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