(January 20-30, Orientation)
Here we are.
Its cold, its dark, and its snowy.
These are the immediate subjective impressions, all of which we knew were coming.
We arrive early morning by sea, with less than a few hours of sleep on the ferry. Tired, hungover, and wanderlust, we force ourselves up from the depths of our C-Class cabin (located below the car storage) to the ship’s bow to watch the passing of countless islands as Helsinki harbor emerges through the misty horizon.
With literally no time to rest, orientation begins within a few hours of arrival.
Under the close guidance of our program director/Associate Dean of the Sam Fox School, Peter MacKeith, we began with an intensive weeklong orientation of all things culturally, socially, politically architecturally and linguistically Finnish.
As not to exhaust you with every single detail, here is a quick breakdown of our week:
• Numerous architectural tours around the city
• History lessons on Helsinki City and traditional Finnish Architecture
• Tour of Helsinki City Hall by Eero Waronen, Helsinki Director of communications
• Discussion with Karl Holm, Chief Planning Officer, at the Ministry of Education and Culture
• Daily Finnish Language lesions
• Discussion at Ministry of Foreign Affairs
• Private tour of the permanent collections of the Ateneum, the Museum of Finnish Art
• Discussion with Timo Vuori, Chief Economist at the Finnish Chamber of Commerce
• Traditional Finnish Sauna with “Avanto” – Where a hole is cut into the ice of the Baltic Sea and you jump in, rinse away the cold in the Sauna, and repeat. Quite an incredible feeling to go back and forth between the two extreme temperatures.
We must stress the striking hospitality we encountered at each of these meetings. Without fail, we were met with warm tea, coffee, sweets, and Korvapuusti, and smiles.It is an exciting time to be in the city of Helsinki. This year they were selected as the biennial World Design Design Capital host. There is a buzz throughout the city and every week is full of exciting openings, shows, and receptions dealing with all things design. Wewill fill you in on these as we move forward to explore the fascinating Finnish way of life.
An unknown city, as you first explore its grid without an understanding of the organization logic, is something we find incredibly exciting. The first path one carves pours the foundation of knowledge upon which to build on; foreign street names, anomalies in the grid, and visual landmarks begin to unfold themselves and make sense as we slowly piece together a mental memory map.
This week has produced a strong initial mental map, and we feel we already have a solid understanding of this city, and more importantly of the Finns, an exceptionally modest and understated people who go about life with an inspiring approach that is thorough, rational, and always sensitive to context. This understanding will help us move forward with our classes next week, and surly grow as we continue toassimilate to life in Helsinki.
Our host school for the semester, Aalto University, is located a few kilometers outside of the city center, in Otaniemi. Alvar Aalto designed the campus master plan, along with many of the main buildings. Here is our course schedule:
“Northern Lights” Design Studio
“A Place to Sit” Furniture Design Chair Studio
Finnish Building Systems
History of Contemporary Finnish Architecture
The snow has been light but constant. The cold has been bitter, but we have learned to use layers. The sun is an infrequent occurrence that always goes noticed (it was nearly a week before we actually saw the sun from behind the clouds). Nevertheless, regardless of how cold, how much snow, how dark, life goes on in Helsinki, this beautiful city of nearly 600,000. The trams and buses still run impeccably on time and on schedule, the roofs are lined with workers shoveling snow off the roofs, the icebreakers keep the frozen Helsinki harbors open for business. The snow dampens the city noise to a more a peaceful tone. Not quite as consistent in neighborly architecture as Stockholm, the center stays true to a high density, low rise model which puts most of the city within an 8 story datum line.
Welcome to Hel.
We will keep you posted as we watch this city transform with the seasons, and let you know how it transforms us.
This work by A.D.Morley & J.A.Wong is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
A new adventure begins as we finish one chapter; we hope to share our story with you. We are current graduate students at Washington University in St. Louis, Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts.