If it ain’t broke why are they fixing it?

So here’s a question: how much does Helsinki need to change? It’s one of the most beautiful cities in northern Europe. That’s not just us here at JHJ, quite a few architectural writers have waxed lyrical about it.

And here’s another question: how come Helsinki managed to survive the twentieth century so well, so intact?

Britain produced clone towns, America sprawled and many a European capital city ended up looking good from an airplane or from miles away, but feeling cold and alienating at street level. Helsinki kept its low-rise city centre alive – just – and developed a new (not unloved!) type of modernist residential area (lähiö) to cope with post-war needs.

But is this changing? Now “Helsinki” is focussing in. We have Kamppi, we have the building sites of New Helsinki’s waterfront luxury (or not) and above all, we have the ongoing headache of Töölönlahti. For the moment things are OK – the cycling ramp to Mannerheimintie we moaned about earlier has been fixed and the skateboarders are loving the smooth asphalt outside the Music Building.

After the railway warehouses were destroyed the authorities promised to make the area accessible to ordinary folks, to put up a few small-scale pavilions for cafes and such, to expand park-like area and so on.

But they also got excited about the potential rents from the area. And interestingly, they got really excited about building underground. There’s story after fragmentary story about an underground library, an underground campus for a new university, a multi-use something, a motor-vehicle tunnel to expedite east-west travel (perhaps making it easier to folks from Espoo to get to the new underground car park about to be built in Hakaniemi.

All of which is a far cry from the stuff that was being discussed a couple of nights ago at Porthania regarding the Guggenheim foundation’s feasibility study for a franchised art museum here. The society for Housing and Planning had invited an Italian, Davide Ponzini, to open a discussion on the rationales in various cities for so-called culture-led regeneration. It was not encouraging. The only unequivocal winners usually are a handful of architects, a handful of big construction companies and a handful of growth-minded politicians.

That’s a lot of disappointed people and a lot of badly designed space if it goes wrong.

Then again, someone did point out that it’s not surprising the Helsinki Art Museum has tried to think laterally about its space needs. Who’d want to run a museum from a moldy box in Meilahti far away from public transport or in the sweet smell of pop-corn at the Tennis Palace. Point taken.

Anyway, nobody has yet very seriously talked about putting a new art museum in the Töölönlahti area. Maybe that’s cos there’s one there already, Kiasma.

Sooo, why not just turn the area into a park? A real one. With people, trees, pavilions and stuff. You know, like they invented in the 18th century? Or was it centuries earlier?

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