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High tech, low key: the secret behind Helsinki’s newest old attraction

David Mac Dougall
High tech, low key: the secret behind Helsinki’s newest old attraction
High tech, low key: the secret behind Helsinki’s newest old attraction
This week on Newsmakers, Aki Davidsson, the noted architect behind the redesign of Helsinki City Museum talks to David Mac Dougall about his vision for urban change in Finland, and what Helsinki in particular should be doing to develop old industrial spaces instead of trying to build major new projects in the small city centre area.

Finnish cities should embrace change, preserve history, re-purpose brownfield sites for high profile building projects, and create more affordable housing.

That's the opinion of Aki Davidsson, the noted architect behind the development of the new Helsinki City Museum, speaking on HSTV's weekly English-language current affairs show Newsmakers.

Davidsson was involved with the new museum project from the earliest stages, working to a design brief that had his firm drawing up plans for buildings that date back to the 18th century.

"One has to be very conscious and considerate about making changes" says Davidsson. "They have to be thoroughly throught through and justified, and the work is all the time balancing between doing something new, preserving something old, bringing something old visible again, in order to bring the old substance to life" he says.

The new museum opened this month in Helsinki's historic Tori Quarters, and unites a previously spread-out museum in one space, which Davidsson was tasked to make open, accessible and uniform.

"I am pretty much convinced about the concept of the City Museum" he says. "When you go in there now, you will find at the entrance your grandmother's rocking chair and you can sit on it. So the relation between the visitor and the visitor's own history and own life and history of the family in the city, those are the main carrying factors at the City Museum"

The architect was conscious of incorporating the highest standards of technology with his design, but wanted to keep it hidden, so as to create a better sense of history for visitors.

"When one designs museums, technology is demanding. It starts with air and temperature, humidity. But I would say that in this case, the design of the exhibition doesn't hang on technology. it looks quite low-tech, but it relates very nicely to the life of people in a non-technological way".

These days, large parts of the Finnish capital city have been turned into construction sites, with major building projects underway at parliament, Töölönlahti, Lasipalatsi and the Market Square; as well as decade-long developments in progress at Jätkäsaari, Hernesaari, Pasila and Kalasatama among others. There are also plans for a high profile new ice hockey stadium, hotel, and restaurant complex near the Olympic Stadium; and the as-yet-unapproved Guggenheim Museum proposal, controversially slated by the American museum chain for the Olympic Terminal area.

Davidsson says he believes that while we need more people in the greater Helsinki region, other areas are ripe for developments that don't crowd into the limited space in the downtown Helsinki footprint.

"I think densifying of cities, that makes sense [...] but I don't see that locating these big functions in the city centre will solve anything, we need more inhabitants, in the city - not city centre area - but in the capital area of Finland".

One possible solution, according to Davidsson, is to make better use of so-called brownfield sites - areas where there used to be industrial or commercial properties, which have since been cleaned up and made ready for development.

"In general I would say this reclaiming of old harbour areas, or old rail yard areas or old military areas [...] that makes very much sense because in order to make Helsinki a real vibrant urban city, we need more people here, definitely we need a lot more people here" he says.

At the heart of any city thought, says Andersson, are the people who live there - it can't simply be a collection of shops and offices. He says that the recent plan unveiled to build micro-homes for single residents is one part of the solution to a housing shortage, but not the only solution.

"In Finland we should develop a functioning rental apartment system or area, in order to balance the development of the housing and home prices" he says. "When talking about these microhomes, I think for some people in some stage of their lives [...] that can be a solution, but it's not a home".

That's what I always want to think that where you live, that's supposed to be your home, and that word already consists a lot of philosophy and psychology, so I think one should build some of those to give the possibility for people who need that to get a roof over their heads, but that can't be the final solution".

Tämä aihe on kiinnostava.

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