The world's northern-most design festival will this year focus on devising solutions to the challenges of life in extreme conditions, says the event's organiser Päivi Tahkokallio – and the lessons learned may one day be important to us all
The world's northern-most design festival takes place from 16 to 22 February in Roveniemi, Finland. The event has a local focus, concentrating on village life in one of the earth's harshest environments and the lesser-known traditions of a country with an established design scene. In doing so, it hopes to challenge the elitism of the global design establishment.
Icon will be in Roveniemi covering the event and spoke to its organiser, Päivi Tahkokallio, in the lead up to it.
ICON: What makes Arctic Design Week unique and how is this edition different from previous years?
Päivi Tahkokallio: Arctic Design Week is the northern-most design week in the world – it takes place in the Arctic Circle in Roveniemi, a city that has only 60,000 residents in a region the size of England. A design competition, Good Life in Villages, is at the centre of this year's event and is part of Arctic Design Week's engagement with its surroundings – the themes and briefs we deal with always related to challenges in the Arctic and aim to interact with people who live in Rovaniemi and elsewhere in Lapland.
Reaching them is a challenge – even in a very design-oriented country like Finland we need to fight against the elitism design often has. The design contest is part of this, as is the Makers Lounge organised this year for the first time – we have invited local craftsmen and women, often unknown to the public, to show their work, organise workshops and encourage residents to try making themselves.
Campfire Design Talks is another new element – after working hours, a great storyteller talks about design, creativity, transparency, values and life in general by a live campfire. Only one of the storytellers is actually a designer – the rest are experts in their field, be it theatre or the Sámi way of life.
ICON: Could you tell me a bit about the design competition? Why did you choose to format it around this and what results do you hope the contest will yield?
PT: The goal of the contest is to work with residents to develop the small village communities of the Kemijoki riverside. We particularly want to find new ideas to bring quality of life to ageing people in Lapland and in Arctic areas in general.
The population is ageing faster in Lapland than elsewhere in the country and, in Finland, faster than the rest of the world. The small population and the long distances between places create specific challenges. For example, the area has higher unemployment figures than Finland in general and young people often have no choice but to seek their future elsewhere. However, neither the younger nor the ageing wish to leave their homes and this contest aims to find ways to create a better quality of life in the villages of Lapland.
We invited four villages to participate in the contest. Each has been assigned a team of people studying design and a range of other subjects in university. The teams have worked for three weeks with the residents and during Arctic Design Week, they will work in 24-hour sessions with four of the best design agencies in Finland – Creadesign, Diagonal, Muotohiomo and Palmu – then present their designs.
The aim of Arctic Design Week is not just to show off designs, but to show that design can have an impact in society. My hope is that the concepts will become real services in the near future, with at least one idea also applied outside Lapland.
ICON: Aside from the design competition, what are you most looking forward to during the event?
PT: I am very much looking forward to seeing local residents, from children to seniors, participate in the design week. I hope to see them shift from onlooker to active participant. Arctic design and ADW is part of the story of Rovaniemi as an Arctic city. Our strength is our knowledge and understanding of harsh, Arctic conditions, be they environmental or cultural, and the Arctic focus on design is also based on these facts.
Arctic design is embedded in the national strategy of Finland, and in the national design programme. From a global perspective, Arctic design can prove useful as a test-bed of extreme conditions, and lessons learnt from here could be adapted to any harsh conditions.
Icon will be at Arctic Design Week, which takes place from 16 to 22 February 2015