Monday 26 April 2021

Helsinki's UGLY BUILDING COMPETITION - by invitation only

"Makkaratalo":  not art-deco. Image: Wikipedia
(The Central Railway Station is in the background)

The city planners have published their five choices for a building next to Eliel Saarinen's famous Railway Station. And its neighbours:  the 1938 art-deco Central Post Office, Lasipalatsi. One of the contenders looks like a giant pagoda plucked out of Peking. Helsinki, a gem of great architecture has fans all over the world.  The city planners seem clueless.

"Klyyga", one of the entries for the new building. Image from the competition site.
(Also starring, from top left: Kiasma, Sanomatalo, Oodi, Sokos building, Central Railway Station, and a tiny bit of "Makkaratalo" in the bottom.)

When Eki and I made the series, TEN FINNISH ARCHITECTS, we were lucky to see, and learn, close-up why Finland is so famous for its architecture and design*.  Poor, mostly agricultural,  until after the second world war,  I was knocked out by how Finland's bold and unpretentious architecture developed and flourished. At least one reason was Open Competitions.

Without Open Competitions, the city planners have given permits for duds. Hotel Clarion is a perfect example. It wrecked the entrance to the center.  When the taxi from the airport takes the route by the sea, or a ship comes into port, there it is – a high-rise exclamation point with one of the best views of the Baltic. In June the citizens of Helsinki will have a chance to voice their opinion about the project by the RR station. Let's hope the majority put a big, Black X  on NO.

* Long before I moved to Finland, I was a big fan of Marimekko. It was my first introduction to the country. Eki and I made a documentary about the company.

Source: the Shark

Next Week: A POX on ANTI-VAXERS 

Note: Well, where should I start. There are two main issues I rather strongly disagree with.

1) The first is that you're sort of lying by omission. Sure, there's the Central Railway Station and Post Office and Lasipalatsi, which are early 1900's art-deco.

"Oodi": not art-deco. Image: The City of Helsinki

But there's also the "Makkaratalo" which is a rather ugly shopping center from the late 1960s that got its nickname from the sausage-like concrete bulge that surrounded its 2nd-floor parking lot (now renovated to hold more shops), the 1990 Kiasma modern art museum which is almost Gehryesque, Sanomatalo from 1999 which is an all-glass office building, the Helsinki Music House concert hall from 2011 which is a tilted glass and marble box, and the 2018 Oodi library
, which is a beautiful piece of abstract modern wood-glass architecture.

All these are within about the same distance from the new building as the art-deco buildings you list.

2) Second: I think what makes cities appealing is the layering of different styles and bold architecture that looks the period. I'm actually pretty sure that the art-deco buildings that are now praised were seen as "too modern" and "not fitting" in their own time.

And that appeal, to me, includes even the ugly 1960's shopping centers, "a little too high" hotels and whatever buildings there are - they are children of their time, and they all have a place in a city that wants to have a history and character that is there for the future generations to discover. Today's abomination can be a future jewel.

PS: I'm actually not sure whether the other buildings mentioned here were a result of an open or a closed competition. Likely both. 

PS2: I actually like some of the new competition entries.