Third time lucky? Soul and acoustics in Helsinki

There are times when just a teeny-weeny bit of life on an increasingly abandoned blog, even written by one with more pressing demands on her time, might be excusable.

Today is one. Jonathan Glancey, an architecture critic so beloved of our editorial staff (me) that he gets more tags on this blog than many a real architect, has graced the pages of Finland’s one and only national paper with his thoughts on Helsinki’s new Music Centre to be opened later this month. Alas, if you don’t actually pay this Finnish quasi-monopoly, instead of Glancey’s observations, you will only get to see others’ responses to a survey about the building.

So what does Glancey think? He’s impressed and not impressed. We hope the text will be found at some point in English, but for now it’s just mentioned in his column inThe Grauniad (which you can still access for free).

The thing that got me – a bit – was this:

Kun pyysin ihmisiä vertaamaan rakennusta johonkin, heille tuli mieleen “konferenssikeskus”, “ostoskeskus” tai “saksalaisen autonvalmistajan toimistorakennus”.

that is:

When I asked people to compare the building to something, they said it brought to mind “conference centre”, “shopping mall” or “a German car manufacturer’s office building”.

Definitely not nice.

Now, having written less than flattering things about the building, not to mention the non-process of planning that’s accompanied its construction, I have gradually begun to change my mind about this addition of calm, unobtrusive, anti-iconic architecture in the heart of my beloved city. Architectural novelties in Helsinki have namely not been particularly uplifting recently. More like down-plonked, as Glancey himself notes, architectural rubbish (my words), thin additions to the city brought here by some gargantuan helicopter (Glancey’s image).

So why have I changed my mind? Because calm and just a little bit disciplined is exactly what this part of Helsinki needed and calm and a little bit disciplined is what it’s got. The sharp but low-profile profile of the music building creates the beginnings of a new horizon where before there was haphazard mess created by the forced marriage of gently curving Kiasma to boring but big Sanomatalo (contemporary corporate clunk put there courtesy of the above-mentioned monopoly, as we noted a long, long time ago on this blog).

Glancey’s text also notes the absence of soul in the building. Yes. He may well be right. But I still live in hope that the incestuously squabbling but delightful music-types in Finland’s successful classical music-scene will, in good time, make up for this. I also hope that Glancey’s little plea to create a really lived city at the end of his article is read and understood by as many Helsinki planners and developers as possible. Over and over. Here a couple of snippets, the first on what Helsinki once managed but appears to have forgotten:

… Helsingin arkkitehtuuri on niin usein onnistunut maagisesti löytämään raikkaita, mutta samalla visuaalisesti ja teknisesti jykeviä ideoita, jotka tuntuvat pikemminkin kasvavan kaupungin peruskalliosta kuin tulleen arasti pudotetuiksi sen pinnalle.

… Helsinki has so often succeeded as if by magic to find fresh but visually and technically robust architectural ideas that seem to grow out of the city’s own bedrock rather than having been timidly dropped on its surface.

Then he goes on to describe what sounds like a pretty perfect city. People, shops, life, trams and all things bright and beautiful right here in the heart of what is still a pocket-sized, harmonious and enjoyable capital city.

Oh, almost forgot. Not the point about our absence from the blogosphere coninciding with the threat of the Basics in Finnish government but the point about the acoustics in the Music Building (I prefer that to Centre and it would be a better translation of the Finnish, just like Basic Finns would be a better translation of Persut than True Finns). Ask Finnish musicians and they’ll tell you that Saint Alvar, for all the good he did for Finland, thoroughly messed up when it came to acoustics. Twice! At the House of Culture and in the Finlandia Hall. This time we’d better get a good sound.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Third time lucky? Soul and acoustics in Helsinki

  1. When the usual asked readers about the Music Centre today, I was also thinking about the failures of House of Culture and Finlandia Hall and that this time they better get everything right.

    I’ve understood acoustics is not the only problem at House of Culture. The big white walls of Finlandia hall are not very good for events that need to be dimly lit.

    • JeesHelsinki

      Yet there is hope, I think.
      As far as I understand, the House of Culture is being refurbed with non-classical or non-acoustic events in mind. Maybe the odd tea dance as well (which needn’t be a joke, I just spotted one at Vanha one mid-week afternoon recently). As for Finlandia Hall – I guess a knowledge society needs all the conferences it can get and maybe pale walls won’t bother those delegates.

  2. Pingback: Conformity and Experimentation in Architecture some notes

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