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A Kalevala-inspired installation has taken shape in Helsinki’s Seurasaari
American architect Travis Price led his students to the mythological world of the Finnish national epic
By Hannu Pöppönen
Architect Travis Price pronounces the name of the central character of the Finnish national epic Kalevala - the seer and shaman Väinämöinen - with an American twang, replacing the Scandinavian Äs and Ö with A and O, while he stands in the drizzle at the southern tip of Helsinki’s island of Seurasaari.
Väinämöinen plays a pivotal role in Price’s enthusiastic explanation of the genesis of the Kalevalakehto (Shaman’s Haven of the Kalevala) installation taking shape on the rocks.
Price tells how he read Kalevala through two and a half times and was captivated by its mystical events.
“The structure came into being through a metaphor”, Price explains.
The fifteen-metre long building’s frame resembles the shape of a boat.
On the one hand it refers to Väinämöinen’s boat-building efforts, on the other hand to the primeval egg from which, according to the story, the world arose. The roof of steel in turn makes references to the story of Sampo, a magical artefact of riches and good fortune also essential to the Kalevala story.
The Kalevalakehto installation, the construction of which took less than two weeks, was opened to the public on Thursday, August 26th.
The building can house just fewer than twenty people at a time. The space can be used by anybody as a meeting place, or just for quiet reflection and composing oneself. The key can be picked up from the Seurasaari Foundation’s office.
The building is owned by the City of Helsinki and it has been granted a temporary building permit until the end of August 2013.
The "Shaman’s Haven of the Kalevala" installation has been constructed by Price’s American architecture students together with students from the Finnish Aalto University.
Price first got interested in Kalevala and the construction of the structure during a visit to Finland a year ago.
He started seeking funding for the undertaking and his efforts bore fruit. A third of the costs were met by the City of Helsinki; the rest came from the Finnish Cultural Foundation and various sponsors.
Price even tried to get the Finnish mobile phone giant Nokia to sponsor the construction of the installation. This attempt fell flat, however.
“I said you talk about connecting people, what if you connected them with their ancestors?”
The architect has carried out similar student projects also elsewhere in the world, for example in Nepal, Ireland, and Peru’s Machu Picchu.
Each one of the undertakings has been based on the local cultural heritage and mythologies.
Price explains that the foundation to his thinking originates from the 1970s, when he studied philosophy. As his influences Price mentions psychoanalyst Carl Gustaf Jung and author Joseph Campbell, who was into researching mythologies. Price combined the influences of the two into his architecture.
Price points to his lower back with his hand to show how long his hair was at one time. He also tells how he built houses that utilised solar cells.
Now he says he is pursuing the “psyche of culture”, which can be traced to the sources of different cultures.
In addition to the Shaman’s Haven of the Kalevala, Price and his students have put together an exhibition that was opened at the Helsinki City Hall on Friday.
One of the designs placed on display there is for the very same plot in Helsinki’s Katajanokka district where the rather controversial cruciform Waterfront Hotel designed by the Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron was to be erected.
Price blasts Herzog and de Meuron’s rejected suggestion.
”It was like two pieces of Swiss cheese placed in a cruciform arrangement, a joke that could have been realised by a second-year student of architecture”, he charges
In his students’ vision the Katajanokka warehouse has been replaced by a Kalevala National Museum.
“Its top floor could house a boutique hotel, if you wish.”
Teaching is a secondary occupation for Price.
In the United States he designs for example residential and commercial buildings.
And if it is up to Price, the Kalevalakehto installation will not remain his only structure in Helsinki.
He expresses an interest in taking part in the architectural competition for the new central library.
“I do take it that it will be an open competition?”
Price’s students’ exhibition at the City Hall Virka Gallery (Pohjoisesplanadi 11-13) will be open until September 22nd. The Kalevalakehto installation will remain in Seurasaari at least until August 2013. Seurasaari is also the site of a large open-air folk museum featuring buildings and other structures from the past four centuries that have been relocated from other parts of Finland (see link below).
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 26.8.2010
HANNU PÖPPÖNEN / Helsingin Sanomat