Better cities. That was the topic I recently had the pleasure to discuss with an architect duo determined to realize a building that would act as a signpost for 21st-century Finnish architecture. Such a building would be built based on simple concepts such as a permeable and street-facing front, integral connection to the street and architecture that helps create inspiring public spaces.
This doesn’t sound like a very outlandish idea, but sadly, with little or non-existent resources, applying noble causes like theirs in the real world are distant dreams. The re-introduction of great time-tested concepts for shaping great cities would certainly be exceptional but that such a project would get support by e.g. getting allocated a piece of land somewhere, would truly be unprecedented. And by supporter I refer to local governments and authorities, developers, and established construction companies. Continue reading Monotony Exposed – Finnish Cities Plagued with Overly Standardized and Worn Building Designs
Last weekend I got invited to a couple’s house in Herttoniemi, one of Helsinki’s first suburbs, to experience the loud hum of a six-lane highway that runs just behind their house and is terrorizing their suburban dream (yes, it is loud). The city apparently hasn’t been interested in setting up a barrier to reduce noise despite it has expanded the road over the years. Furthermore, the area’s new infill development plan is suggesting too many new buildings to their neighborhood and right in their backyard too. The couple said they were proud Not-In-My-Backyard folk and don’t want changes to their surroundings. It seemed to be yet another NIMBY case. Continue reading Finnish Suburbs Await Inspiring Retrofits
“No nation can escape its geography” said Percy Spender, the Australian Minister for External Affairs back in 1950. He was talking about the need to reinvent Australia’s relationship towards Asia to make the most out of the nation’s factual geographical position and not see itself only as belonging to the circuits of the old British Empire. This same line of thought obviously applies to cities as well. I got a first-hand experience of this around the turning of the year when I had the pleasure to visit a good friend of mine in Ljubljana, Slovenia. The city naturally wasn’t repositioning its foreign and regional policy like the Aussies were but its relationship with River Ljubljanica. Continue reading Helsinki’s ‘Daughter of the Baltic Sea’ Brand Needs a Ljubljana-Style Reboot
In a couple of my previous posts, I’ve stressed my amazement with the quick change in attitude among Helsinki’s urban planners. The message from the planning authorities is that they have chosen to increasingly question the conventional modernist planning ideology and are now actively seeking to add elements of a more urbanist approach to Helsinki’s upcoming steering document, the new city plan.
Now that the first excitement is slowly beginning to settle down, it’s time to start thinking ahead. And what I’ve been thinking about this time touches upon the management of links between planning ideologies and planning practice. Namely, I would like to see one classic planning debate enter the Helsinki discussions, because A) it has not been discussed at all in this process; and B) it plays a significant role in the on-the-ground implementation of the new city plan. Continue reading Design First or Last? A Fork in the Road for Helsinki’s New City Plan
A couple of months ago I attended a seminar for planning-oriented geographers and the event has kept on circulating in my thoughts because of one comment in particular. During the discussion section, one of the speakers, Marketta Kyttä, was asked what in her opinion will most likely stand out as the most bizarre legacy of contemporary Finnish urban planning practice. Something which future generations will stare at wondering “what on earth were they thinking”. Her answer was our obsession with shopping centers and malls. Touché, I thought.
A clear-cut separation of commercial services from the rest of the city, typically in the form of a shopping mall, certainly is one distinct feature that has become a defining element in our city-making tradition during the modern era. And despite recent urban renaissance movements in the larger cities, there is little indication that we are anywhere near giving up this pattern of urban development. In my opinion much more attention should be targeted at this issue because mallification is very counterproductive if we truly want to create neighborhoods with an urban atmosphere. Continue reading Help Cure Finland’s Mall Fever
Many urbanists here in Helsinki have recently needed to double-check whether they’re dreaming or really wide awake. This is because last month Helsinki’s City Planning Department published new documentation on what the city will look like in 2050 and what are the basic pillars of the new city plan. Amazingly, the grand visions that have been in the air in recent years are again one notch closer to becoming reality: “In the Helsinki of 2050, densely constructed suburban centres will be connected by rail traffic. The downtown area will have expanded along the motorways, which have been converted into city boulevards. […] The Helsinki of the vision is more densely populated in all areas than that of today. New construction is mainly located around the suburban railway stations. The suburbs have become centres of urban living, services and workplaces (source)”. Continue reading Urban Helsinki Versus the Building and Construction Industry
In the past two months I’ve worked with organizing two big seminars on wooden construction in Finland with minister-level attendance. Speakers ranging from governmental institutions and city-planners to the lumber industry unanimously established that wood is the way of the future.
Due to tightening carbon emission regulations, wooden construction is now being promoted as an effective measure in the battle against climate change. Not only is the carbon footprint of a wooden building a lot smaller than of a concrete one, but the material itself also ties down atmospheric carbon dioxide given that new trees will replace the ones used for construction. The Finnish government has also made it public policy to develop and support wood-based construction. Continue reading Finland Goes Back to the Future with Wooden Construction
The suburban city of Espoo to the west of Helsinki has major plans for the future. The most ambitious project is to transform the so-called T3 area consisting of Keilaniemi, Otaniemi and Tapiola into one big bustling, vital center. T3 refers to the three Finnish words “tiede, taide, and talous”, meaning science, art and economy. These three words all match with one of the areas in the plan: Keilaniemi with economy, Otaniemi with science and Tapiola with art. Continue reading The T3 Plan – a Facelift for Finland’s Epicenter of Modernist City Planning
One of the main reasons why there are little options for sprawl-like development today is zoning. Or more specifically, the way we zone.
A simple description of zoning is the practice of isolating land-uses into zones of their own. Residential areas, commercial areas, industrial areas, recreational areas and so forth. Cities will typically have their own zoning policies as well. These are instructions that regulate e.g. the types of housing allowed in a residential zone. Continue reading Zoning in on Zoning
Public art is a wonderful thing and installing more of it is always to root for. The kind you invest in and where you install it will however tell a lot about what the public and public policy makers value. Here, we value enjoying public art from our car.
If you would tour through Finland’s towns and cities by car, you will notice that we have put a lot of effort in making your drive a pleasant one. Just about every roundabout you meet will be decorated with an installment of some sort or at least with nice plantings. Not to mention larger art installments freeway-side or on crossing bridges. In inhabited areas, we will also make sure the grass next to the roads and ramps is nice and tidy. Continue reading Public Art – Through a Windshield