Helsinki Design Week 21.09.15

hdw website

Swift financial and demographic changes mean that the Finnish capital is changing, so is it any wonder that its design community is looking to the future, asks Crystal Bennes?

During the many exhibitions and events at this year’s Helsinki Design Week, its 11th incarnation, one couldn’t help but shake the overwhelming feeling that many designers are now more active participants in the “future” business than the design business. Although, I later learned that the theme of this year’s design week was Time Machine, so such feelings were no-doubt intentionally provoked by the programming.

Helsinki is changing. The smaller neighbour of Stockholm and St Petersburg is becoming both more inward and outward looking as it deals with the economic pressures of financial difficulties at home and the needs of a changing population, as well as an increasing desire to boost its profile on the global stage, evidenced most manifestly perhaps by the recent hoo-hah over the Guggenheim Museum competition. Given this context, is it any wonder that the city’s design community is looking to the future?

During the week’s flagship seminar, a lively conversation on cities and systems between NESTA’s director of innovation, Brenton Caffin; Snowcone & Haystack founder, Marco Steinberg, Van Alen Institute executive director David van der Leer; and MVRDV architect Hui-Hsin Liao emphasised that the rapidly developing trend towards smart cities should be driven by people rather than technology. With typical Finnish self-effacement, Steinberg gently criticised his native colleagues both for their tendency towards technocratic decision-making, but also for their scepticism about public engagement. “Consultation is built into our constitution through public hearings,” he said, “but it’s a very asymmetric relationship. We need to change the dynamic of the power structure. Councils think that more public engagement means more complaints, but often that’s simply not the case.”

Elsewhere, across the city, venues new to HDW were drafted in to host a number of design exhibitions. L3, a listed Lars Sonck-designed warehouse in Jätkäsaari, a waterside district currently undergoing heavy development, was temporarily remodelled as a mini design fair. There, highlights included a new collection from the relatively young Finnish design duo, Studio HH – simple ash furniture and wrapped copper lights – and a series of delicately coloured tin tumblers by Jin Kuramoto as part of Japanese Design Revisited, a Lexus-backed exhibition.

In an annexe to the L3 warehouse, an elegant display by a trio of young designers – ceramicist Salla Luhtasela, furniture maker Wesley Walters and textile and print designer Reeta Ek – was especially captivating. Abstract prints in complex palettes by Ek hung from exposed-brick walls, while the deceptively simple lines of Walter’s wooden furniture gave structural heft to displays of ceramics table and serving wear by Luhtasela. “We made these pieces for Restaurant Ask [a fine-dining restaurant in Helsinki],” said Walters, gesturing towards the ceramics. “But since we never told anyone about it until now, we thought it might be nice to show people what we can do.” It turns out that Walters is American by birth, but it’s clear to see that the classic Finnish modesty has already made a strong impression.

Helsinki Design Week took place from 3-13 September 2015

 

Words

Crystal Bennes

quotes story

The smaller neighbour of Stockholm and St Petersburg is becoming both more inward and outward looking as it deals with the economic pressures of financial difficulties at home and the needs of a changing population, as well as an increasing desire to boost its profile on the global stage

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