Helsinki World Design Capital 2012

Along with the sauna and Santa Claus, it’s fair to say that Finnish design has reached virtually every part of the globe, even when people are unaware of it. The patterns Maija Isola designed for Marimekko can be seen in almost every city, and who knows how many people have passed through JFK airport in New York without realising that the distinctive TWA Flight Centre there was designed by Finn Eero Saarinen, or that he also designed the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri. It would be futile to speculate on how many homes use glassware from iittala, designed by Tapio Wirkkala, Timo Sarpaneva, Kaj Franck, or Aino Aalto, wife of the internationally acclaimed architect (and designer) Alvar Aalto. Likewise, how many people have seen the iconic bubble chair of Star Trek? Would they have realised that it had been designed by Eero Aarnio?

First-time visitors to Finland are often surprised at the sheer variety of architectural styles in the cities here. This is especially true of Helsinki and Turku, where the older neoclassical buildings sit alongside those built in the National Romantic style (a Finnish variation of Art Nouveau), as well as the more recent Finnish Modernist styled buildings, a style typified by the works of Alvar Aalto. Other notable Finnish architects include Josef Stenbäck (numerous churches in Finland), Lars Sonck (Tampere Cathedral and Kallio Church in Helsinki), Eliel Saarinen (the National Museum of Finland and Central Railway Station in Helsinki), Erik Bryggman (the Resurrection Chapel in Turku), Reima Pietilä (Kalevala Church in Tampere), and Arto Sipinen (the cultural centres in Espoo, Mikkeli, Kuusamo and Imatra).

With such a wealth of talented designers coming from Finland, it was probably inevitable that Helsinki would be awarded the coveted designation of World Design Capital at some point. That it was the third city to be awarded speaks volumes about how Helsinki has incorporated design into the city’s very fabric, using it to improve social, cultural and economic life in the capital. The World Design Capital project, awarded every two years, is a year long programme of design-related events whose stated aims are to:

  • Recognise innovative cities for the use of design as an effective tool for social, cultural, environmental and economic development
  • Showcase a designated city and its achievements on the international forum
  • Promote global understanding of design as an economic development tool
  • Create an international network where cities and municipalities can learn and share innovative design programmes and strategies
  • Present international examples for enhancing economic growth, innovation, public safety, quality of life and social interactions
  • Promote outstanding education and research institutions in the field of design
  • Share municipal design-led project between developed countries and emerging economies.

It is a unique opportunity for Helsinki to highlight its accomplishments in promoting innovative design and to highlight the city’s successes in urban revitalisation strategies.

Helsinki’s bid to become World Design Capital 2012 was supported by the Finnish government, many schools and universities, as well as design organisations and businesses. The collaborating cities in Helsinki’s World Design Capital project, Espoo, Vantaa, Kauniainen and Lahti, will fully participate in the planning and execution of the design year’s programme.

Discovering Finland will be highlighting many of the upcoming events over the coming year, which will begin on a festive note with New Year’s Eve celebrations in Senate Square.