Helsinki Design Week 30.09.14

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This year’s edition of Helsinki Design Week examined the role of design both in the museum and in everyday life, while organising a range of more playful activities in the city

The architectural competition for the controversial Guggenheim Helsinki was still open when Helsinki Design Week began in early September. But while seemingly every architect's office in the world was sending in its entry for a project that still hasn't had the go-ahead from the city that is being asked to host and fund it, there was plenty of non-Guggenheim-related debate about design and architecture in the Finnish capital.

What could have been a dry, inward-looking debate about design curating and the museum, was a surprisingly engaging conversation between Andrea Lipps from the Cooper-Hewitt, Beatrice Galilee from the Metropolitan Museum in New York, Thomas Geisler from the MAK in Vienna, Suvi Saloniemi from the Finnish Design Museum and Philip Long, the director of the V&A in Dundee (due to open in 2017).

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Tatzu Nishi's Hotel Manta (top image) is built around the statue of Havis Amanda in the main market square (above)

In a series of presentations they looked at the history of their own institutions and mocked the many uses and abuses of the term "curating" along the way. (At one point Lipps showed a T-shirt bearing the baffling slogan: "Curating – it is what it is.") Geisler spoke about the 150-year-old MAK's previous, eccentric policy of not collecting Austrian design and everyone referred to the V&A's rapid-response collecting initiative. (Whether for or against, it's clearly something curators now have to think about.) The whole event highlighted what's missing in the conversations around the Guggenheim project: what will the museum display and what is it actually for (beyond providing a landmark building)?



Fatema Ahmed


Images: Simo Karisalo

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The whole event highlighted what's missing in the conversations around the Guggenheim project: what will the museum display and what is it actually for

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Exhibition pavilion made of recycled materials outside the Old Abattoir (above and below)

The theme of this year's design week, the tenth edition of the event, was Take the Leap. Programme director Hanna Harris has described this as an attempt to get the city's design community to look at what kind of progress it is making – in both commercial and civic terms. Laura Aalto of International Design Foundation, a body set up after Helsinki's stint as World Design Capital in 2012, explained the city's efforts to ensure a legacy for WDC's programme of 550 projects, a €17million budget and 2.5million visits.

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For instance, The City of Helsinki, the largest employer in Finland (with 40,000 on the payroll), has been "embedding design in the public sector", Aalto said. Although Finnish design has a worldwide reputation, "It was about the future," Aalto said. "It was not about Finnish design in the 1950s and 60s. It was the starting point to more broadly understand that the city is about citizens." The city now employs three designers "to act as a bridge between the design community and the city administration".

In addition to the usual design week activities of the city's showrooms throwing open their doors, and local designers unveiling their work in several new venues (most notably in the Old Abattoir), there were more playful installations. Commissioned for the Helsinki Festival (an arts event), supported by the Finnish Society of Crafts and Design and conceived by the Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi, the Hotel Manta is a temporary 40sq m ensuite hotel room in the middle of the city's main market square. It contains a charming secret – it's built around the bronze statue of Havis Amanda, who rises through the room on her pedestal like Venus Anadyomene. It's a lovely piece of public art as well as a temporary hotel – it's open to all during the day so that visitors can look the statue in the eye.

Helsinki Design Week took place from 4 to 14 September 2014


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