If you are interested in how ideals congeal into matter, and if you appreciate that a seven-storey building can be “human-sized”, do come and visit Helsinki.
But whether you’re here or just planning a visit, make sure to enjoy it before it’s too late. The “pressure” to build (particularly on the water) is producing a stunning list of new and attractive opportunities for the building sector. The Planning Department’s webpage contains so much architectural and planning dross it makes me weep.
From redesigning the rural idylls of Östersundom and the fast-growing suburbs to the east, to the bombastic dullness of the other so-called New Helsinki zones, up the high-rise-hotel (a new symbol for Helsinki?!) on the western edge of the peninsula, and down to the wrangle over a helicopter pad in Hernesaari … our enormous Planning Department must be a hive of activity.
Presumably everywhere architecture and construction have sped up through computer-aided technology and politics-to-suit-the-rich. The craze for big and showy in Helsinki is also capitalizing on the genuine problem that Helsinki’s land-use is wasteful by European standards (as even Wikipedia will tell you). So as they turn over more and more of the city to speculative building, the usual suspects (Kokoomus politicians like young Mr Männistö who heads the planning committee, for example) have at their disposal a machine more powerful than ever with which to smother the city with monuments to today’s impatient capitalism, but also a vaguely green-sounding argument for building high.
Can protesters and activists keep up? They are beginning to try. Some have stepped up their campaigns with letters to the planning department and to editors (if you have access to Helsingin Sanomat you can follow an interesting exchange here), and with new websites and blogs.
Perhaps the new little exhibition at the Architecture Museum, Unbuilt Helsinki, is also a kind of protest. Maybe. I’d describe it as difficult art. But it is based on a larger, longer project that might yield some stories yet, about how the choices were once made that created the city we still love.
Is there any point in trying to resist? Haven’t the rich always shaped the city?
Probably. But I can’t believe the rich have always been this stupid or careless. In this little gem of a city we appear to have rich folks who can’t distinguish a fine skyscraper from an a architectural erectile dysfunction.
And, to give me the excuse to share this bit of silliness (below), Helsinki’s rich presumably also think a good evening’s eating out might have some connection to forest sceneries. I think, Helsinki, we have a massive problem on our hands.
If, dear reader, you have any thoughts on the design of future Helsinki that haven’t been taken up on this blog, or that should be taken in new directions, I’d love to know. The thing is, I’m not going away, but I think this blog should now wind up. It’s time for something more serious.
Thank you so much for reading. JHJ.