Adapting and opening up urban harbours to contemporary needs is vital to improving resilience and wellbeing, says Hanna Harris
Words by Hanna Harris
When I moved from London back to Helsinki some years ago, one thing was clear: I wanted to live within walking distance of the sea. Located on a peninsula and surrounded by the sea from three directions, being in Helsinki just made sense.
Here, everyone lives less than 10km from the sea, and it plays a significant role in daily life, from swimming to travelling across the city’s archipelago. The connection to the sea and marine areas is a crucial characteristic and benefit of life in Helsinki, a life that builds on the city’s harbour history.
Over the past 15 years, the City of Helsinki has gradually transformed several of its formerly industrial harbour areas into new residential neighbourhoods. Today, we are in the process of turning one of the last remaining city-centre shorelines – Makasiiniranta at South Harbour, which is currently cut off from public access by harbour and cruise ship functions – into a cultural hub and pedestrianised urban space.
Last May, the City of Helsinki launched a quality and concept competition for this transformation, with the goal to activate and enliven the seafront, create a new public realm for residents and visitors alike and generate long-term sustainable design solutions.
Creating green and blue public realms in clever ways is crucial when nurturing the connection between people and the sea. I have seen and experienced the benefits of the sea first hand. Providing uninterrupted access to the seafront enhances people’s wellbeing, offering an uplifting and inclusive space. In addition to this, reshaping and reimagining formerly industrial urban harbours encourages access to other benefits – from better walking and cycling networks to new cultural amenities.
The revitalisation of the Makasiiniranta area not only opens up the central stretch of Helsinki’s shoreline to the public, it also includes plans to establish the new Architecture and Design Museum, which we hope will be a place to take part in shaping the world through the lens of design, contributing to urban life itself.
Nine entries have been submitted to the Makasiiniranta transformation competition and a jury will advance a maximum of four proposals for the second phase in March 2022. Ideas and plans put forward include enhancing biodiversity, supporting the city’s climate work and using innovative design and technology to sustainably develop the area.
The general public has been very interested in the competition and transformation process – the people of Helsinki feel passionately about the city’s proximity to the sea and how that is reflected in our architecture, town planning and land use. Hundreds of comments were submitted on our online portal about the competition entries; the quality of the new public spaces and promenades was seen as particularly important.
Cities should be encouraging plans and ideas on how best to design harbours of the future. Yesterday’s harbours may have been spaces of heavy industry, but those of tomorrow are places full of life and innovation. What’s more, adapting harbours to extreme weather and encouraging biodiversity in sustainable ways will only become more prevalent in the years to come.
Personally, I will make sure to continue having a daily connection with the shoreline, a key component of Helsinki’s DNA. I will take strolls along the 130km of maritime paths every day, island-hop in the Helsinki archipelago – and soon explore the evolving Makasiiniranta area.
Hanna Harris is chief design officer for the City of Helsinki. This article was originally featured in ICON 207: Spring 2022. Subscribe or purchase a copy of the issue here
Photography: Kalasatama district courtesy of Helsinki Partners and Jussi Hellsten
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