A lecturer on the recent National Geographic Seven Continents Tour, Travis Price found himself for the first time on the streets of Kochi, India. Inside a Hindu shrine he encountered glass-encased statues of Catholic priests under giant Christian billboards draped in garlands, and a Buddha with a third eye sporting the nose of Alexander the Great. "Underneath all these cultural overlaps," recalls Price, "were the deeper origins of earliest India, wrapping the whole in silk and perfume and making it all at home."
For three decades as an architect, author, teacher, and philosopher Price has delighted in discovering these cultural intersections and metaphors that define our world. In his groundbreaking books The Archaeology of Tomorrow and the forthcoming Sojourns into the Ethnosphere, Price defines a vision for where architecture should be headed beyond green. In an award-winning architecture informed by ecology and mythology and in the pioneering Spirit of Place Program at the Catholic University of America that introduces new architects to the tenets of his vision, he restores spirit of place to modern design. "Finland is homeland to two of my favorite architects-Alvar Aalto and Eero Saarinen. The prospect of being around their work and underlying influences excites me. I love absorbing cultural vibes-people, nature, the eccentricities, and the earlier, deeper history-and then imagining new buildings and sharing the discovered hidden threads of that heritage with others."
Helsinki is becoming a "Design-Driven city". Future strategies will include design as one of the spearheads for development. "Multidisciplinarity" describes the definition of "design" in the post-industrial phase of the modern world. Architecture, design education, fashion design, industrial design, interior design, landscape architecture, urban planning/design, design management, design research, service design, etc. will all be in the loop when Helsinki applies for the title of World Design Capital 2012.
The next 10-15 years will be an era of city planning, architecture and building constructions. The new harbour outside the city centre in Vuosaari has released large areas by the water-front for new purposes. Helsinki will face opportunities and challenges similar to those of, e.g. the city of Hamburg a decade ago.
All in all, this is a great moment for Mr Travis Price to enter the world of Helsinki. He will be hosted by Mr Kari Korkman, the founder and director of Helsinki Design Week, the annual festival for creative industries. During his visit Mr Price will become acquainted with the history of Finland and its renowned architecture and design. In addition, he will have the opportunity to meet a number of contemporaries in urban design, academics, arts, crafts, fashion, industry and - you never know - mystics.
Day one on jet lag and loving Helsinki! I am a american southern boy where the warm welcome of "hey" is special, indeed to be hei, hei-ed made me right at home. Everywhere my eyes danced seeing buildings and sculpture tell stories from ancient times, to revolutionary moderns, to emerging moderns.
Indeed, the Kalevala Spirit permeates everywhere and is luminous at the breathtaking exposition now on in the Museum Ateneum! Details, big concepts, and a fluid echo of Hei has made my first day a great day! On the trail of the Spirit of Place; the land of trees and water has opened a quiet jewel of design.
Striking out into a walk, new blocks and directions , minimalism, practical water ways, dancing radios, green flip flop trees, black and white Ming vases, and McDonald's creeping in all around! Somehow here, it's just another sculpture in yellow of Saarinen's St Louis arch, the golden arches that is. It fries my American sensitivities , but its a part of the design exchange....I guess.
Zooming out to the Helsinki burbs is evocative even in a car filled landscape and street less scenes , design shines even more. I arrive at the 1973 Marimekko production and headquarters building, said to be the precedent for Paris's Pompidou. Grey layers on silver screens shading summer sun. Then inside cheer bursts on the scene, not retro even though retro wishes it had the staying power of the Marimekko Magic, " sisu" ! More eclipsing than the dance of color, metaphor and fabric fabrications is the steely delight in creative director Minna Kemell-Kutvonen and PR Manager Tiina Alahuhta-Kasko. We immediately dive into a full on discussion about the source of inspirations, new design, enduring design, the unique joy of contradictions in Finnish history between the dark years and the need for light and delight in color and flowers and forms... something needed more than ever today in the gloom and doom of the current economy's crunch. Then a stunning tour of production and aha! the search for the Mythic Modern of the Kalevala is rolled out in reams of the new Kalevala line.....
I filled my head and my Kalevala bag!
But the Bauhaus burbs don't end there, and a wonderful new industrial building shines like Bach across the street ,even the irony of McDonald's ala Helsinki, no giant road architecture arches to be sure, no faux mansard Americana, but indeed pure Bauhaus with your burger! No fries needed.
Arriving at the offices of Helsinki Lion of Architects APRT, a key partner Hannu Tikka greets me with a dazzling display of won competitions and works..... shortly we are crossing a bridge.. and arrive at an extraordinary sunset.... Sauna Sunset that is. It's men's day ...5 layers of heat, smoked and then dipping into the ice hole!!! We sit around a fire in towels, discuss the essences of design inquiries of Helsinki architects, sum up the women's movement, design a display with Nori and then melt into a clear sunset of blue, yellow and crackling ice everywhere....... And just when the immersion into the Sacred Sauna of the Kalevala sang out...there we were dining on "fairly happy" beef, discussing Carl Jung, Russian Painters influences on Finnish arts with Eeropekka " Eeris" Rislakki and his new side kick , Nora Poullion... great to see another odd American / American! Satisfied and beyond well feed , I aimed for the sacred the next day!
Day 2 / The Sacred and the Profane march on into April..... Kari whisked me from the superb landings of Mikko and Susanna into a whirlwind view of emerging and hitoric Helsinki....white sky, white snow, cream fronds...and then into the earth to be lifted into the heavens at the sacred masterpiece Temppeliaukio Church by brothers Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen. ....then on to the temple of Nokia...and others, desinger Kaisa Blomstedt discussing the state of Finnish Interiors ... and stolling peeks ino the interior of Finnish retail therapies as cold winds, Mikko and Susanna of Planet Pluto swept me into a sublime dinner and view from Aalto's Savoy Restaurant and the magic lights of Helsinki nights shimmered in Hei, Hei and super supper subconcious memories danced in my dreams.
And the day began with 2 shocks! My all new Dell computer keyboard failed the day before! How to communicate??? And true to quiet precision the Finns deliver the extraordinary miracle of survival and triumph in the modern world a Finnish tech support for Dell has arranged a new keyboard to be delivered. A message appears on the screen saying it has arrived from US and within in minutes the technician has replaced it and I am running out the door up and running again in the cyber world. Everyone may live in buried snow here, but digitally they linked like no other....
I see the great public square and Hilka brings joyful tears recanting the day in 1993 when the Finnish Anthem is sung by a merger of Punk Rockers - the Leningrad Cowboys singing with the Red Army Chorus!
Strolling the grand promenade Esplanade, I see hands building, the mix of showrooms with historic original buildings hand in hand with modern detailing at once immensely thought out , quiet, yet jaw dropping as an iPhone screen. Then the modern triumphs of Iittala, Marimekko, and the enduring joy of Artek , all are there as the norm! Humor and pop , pop into view at every other window, constant design everywhere. And then by decree from Susanna , I slip into the old Market - (like Eastern Market in DC but with a richer healthier vitality) and sitting at a table I devour simplicity and seafood, a simple bowl of fresh bouillabaisse with the yummiest bread and sauces. Sitting by frozen ice looking at glorious blue light outside.
I gave my lecture at City Hall on the Archaeology of Tomorrow... great crowd always politely silent, pensive, yet a final comment ...."Thank you for taking us into an amazing world" a lady volunteered from the back.. I felt honored and indeed my quest for the Mythic Modern of Helsinki spawned a new gang of discourses... at last the purple mist of Nokia flagship space ...drinks with exchange students from Japan - Mayu and Nori.....and then on to a reception by AW2 architects......what a great meeting of new and seasoned architects...at the office we enter a green wall of plants feeding oxygen and then the irony of a tasting of the latest Helsinki restaurant design CONCEPT with a rock star chick cooking on an open grill dead in the city ::: CONCEPT:? " an American burger and fry joint" . It was delicious... finally cascading into a late night design and life discourse with Kari , my keeper at the quiet chic and spectacular Restaurant Maxill. Am I in Paris, London, Washington or Helsinki?
DAY 5-- THURSDAY - Mikko, Irma-Riitta, Ami, Valeri, Susanna
This was a day less about "D"esign , but more as about the cultural powers behind design....my day is greeted by Mikko and our stopping at the harbor.... while grey , the landscape is full of a band of morning seekers headed to work, headed to meetings. In true fashion along the walk ways I see tour boats docked, ice breaking up from winter, the Byzantine church on the hill , the Aalto white box dead center.....( soon to be copied in a way as a new non contextual icon hit by Herzog and Demeuron 's new hotel , the Swiss Ice Cube.... the orange tents are full of good cheer, good eats, and coffee, coffee, coffee... the elixir and antidote of dawn and grey skies....
I am greeted at a one of Helsinki's classical joys, the Finnish Historical Society for my 2nd lesson on the great Kalevala, the mysterious mythical saga of Finnish lore...The doors open , the statue of Vainamoinen sits with an adoring maiden. I am greeted by Irma-Riitta who apologizes for the moving headaches during these days of recent renovations....I am immersed by her into the linear and non linear inquiries of the telling of the tale....We only begin to delve into what the Kalevala encompasses and the various ways of hearing, reading and comprehending its impact on the mythical seat of Finnish culture. I see great copies of the Kalevala, old , new intensely heavy versions as well as well, yes an infamous Donald Duck version. ....Later I see one at the airport for children , The Canine Kalevala.... Irma powers my mind with the pay dirt of spiritual and mythical inquiries..... somehow I have met the pensive and hearty trail of Finnish culture tickled by humor without hubris.... Irma delightfully guides me through recordings of the singing meter of the Kalevala....then a non stop talking walk to the bookstore and suddenly I am generously weighted down with books and tapes galore....I knew I had found the other half of myhelsinki quest, the myth that would guide my quest for the architecture of the modern Kalevala .
If this was a taste of ancient Finnish psyche, next my 2 hours with marketing genius Ami Hasan who invited me to jam on ideas after attending my lecture on the "Archaeology of Tomorrow". Like Kari's design world view, Ami walked me into a deeper understanding of the world of the living market for design as well as landscapes of Finland... the traditional Thursday green pea soup , bread hit the spot as did the hip creative atmosphere of open planning and funky design....and like everyone I met the idea of constructing a Sacred Sauna of the Kalevala lead to more and more suggestions and site dreams....
A slow step through Kampi....one of many massive blocks of indoor malls full of design and pedestrian mixed use projects that made Helsinki twice as big as it appears. The outer streets and inner realms of retail and housing are a rich stew of life, design, and commerce.
Even clearer , a full archaeological walk through at the Museum of Finnish history guided by graduate student , Valeri Saltikoff, opened my understandings of the recorded beginnings of Finland's peoples migrating north, surviving snow, forging steel, living in the cold.... Sweden, Tsarist and Marxist Russia...therein were all the basic tools of the Kalevala including painted murals by Akseli Gallen-Kallela , all in the Castle of History.... I am beat and Susanna treats me to a quiet dinner... and design reigned again at a hip restaurant ,grotesk, modern mix, red chairs everywhere...a never ending delight of careful design from concept to endless details of design, forks, knives...lamps, veiled dividing walls.... and sleep!
DAY 6-- FRIDAY - Mikko, Kari, Hellka, Gang from DC, Deputy Mayor, Susanna ,
Launch into a planning and design heaven, off to the Arabia complex! A complete design heaven. An amazing view, design retail including Aalto the man himself, IIttala, a company sponsored design team of professors, an amazing school of all arts, mixed use with the coolest housing ever, views of the sea, sculpture growing like mushrooms abound, offices, some modest retail and no real street scene yet, but indeed a real vision of sustainable future living.... a real vision. And once again , deepest philosophic discourse on minimalism, culture, holding the cup as function , storage as function, a simple act that claims all our senses into the landscapes...Tuija Aalto-Setaia and Taina Gronqvist enlighten me and make me want to complete a million thoughts with them on the succeeding trips......students of theater, video, sculpture, music, textiles, architecture... and more all merged into the hard business and branding refinements... truly a grand mix.....
Then , like all strolls in Helsinki I sink deeper into commercial design at Kampi , street design treats, the train station and then seamlessly I come head on to the Stephen Holl modern museum, Kiasma! I flow into a new exhibit 5 years in the making, a vortex of religion and the individual, Marita Liulia, artist and feminista galore, Choosing my Religion and choosing me for a classic Finnish lunch and discourse ranging from Christ to Buddha to Hindhu to Abraham to Moses to Muhammad, only to land Platonically on the Animists and marketing art...... Tarot narcissism on Nokia phone sets .... All in all the "me-ness" as the modern religion... choices without decisions.
Strutting away with moi moi, pussi, pussi..... I walk into a mayhem of the Washington gang and their Helsinki mentors at City Hall... Ayo, Nora, and a super warm reception by Deputy Mayor Pekka Sauri...indeed MyHelsinki is making more sense than ever and is the opening of a major new line of exchanges....
As evening mists take over, and more than visiting and absorbing, I am truly happy to just throw in 2 cents helping Kari work at his Saarinen home on "green" correspondence with fellow design heads in Milan ......and then a true delight, a hidden 15 person "Ruskie" restaurant with classic sour cream over pickles and salmon soup.... Wine and wonderment as we continue to construct sites, markets and mysteries of the Sacred Sauna of the Kalevala for next year as a bigger and bigger new design event......
I walk on to the local number 4 train back to the glorious Torni Hotel and sleep, tucked into a full day's contentment.... Onward tomorrow to lands outside Helsinki...
DAY 7-- SATURDAY - Mikko, Kari, Hellka , Jaakko, Mayu, Nari and a mad, mad dinner gang !
After morning coffee, salmon egg at the great Torni breakfast, I walk past adds for the Kalevala exhibit at the Ateneum Museum into a bright yellow restored Russian Army barracks to meet great staffers like Markku Siiskonen and Reetta Dewan at the Helsinki City Planning Dept. A children's art exhibit is under construction at the entry and having read the planning book for the city , I am truly honored and greatly appreciative. I am given a full out power point of the city planning of 570K Helsinkittes, and where it will be going for decades to come. The new changes around the harbors, sites for the Sacred Sauna of the Kalevala, and new buildings are all discussed along with new urbanist planning issues and green initiatives. I even weighed in rather negatively on the new Herzog and de Muron Swiss Ice Cube building being proposed. They are great architects, but I do believe Helsinki is not getting their best by far, nor something inviting at the harbor. Clearly the US Embassy is a high mark in DC and the spirit of Finland should welcome all at the harbor site as well it seems to me. The current design doesn't harbor well for the future, I hate to say.
Another design trove opens up at Skanno. It seems that Helsinki sings with fantastic adaptive reuse as much as historic, and new stand alone architecture. As always products and displays continually seduce me into modernism that endures... Kari sniffs trees and stares at faux sunlight in anticipation of our grey sky drive to Fiskars Village and Billnas... his wife tells me he has always been rightfully delusional!
En route a number of modern buildings with triumphant modern flair keeps reminding me of how many I want to explore many times over on future visits. En route we are invited to stop outside of Fiskars to meet a phenomenal furniture craftsman at his home studio. The jewel like precision and plain spiritual clarity rush through me like wasabi of the design soul. He tells us that Peruvian shaman recently scanned his surrounds and declared that the conflux of spirits were indeed in great harmony. It was true.
Indeed touring with the Chairman of developing Billnas, Jaakko Tapaninen is highlighted by a lunch of Reindeer salad topped by a thorough discussion on the future of modular green housing for Finland..I crawl back to the Torni at 5 to meet Mayu and Nari , the students working on my tree for my Helsinki and we madly design ideas for 2 hours.
And just as I am ready to knock off to sleep at 8 PM , I am reminded of a dinner party invitation with friends of Kari by :
Hanna and Artturi Mutanen (they are in film business: Hanna is a
managing director on Grilli Films, http://www.grillifilms.fi/flash/and
Anna Vartiainen and Matti Anttila (Anna is marketing manager at Artek and Matti runs his own architecture office
I arrive at an apartment appointed in warm candles, a TV fireplace roaring and a wild gang of Helsinki hellions. A marketing guru for Artek, architects, lighting designers, a wild fashion diva, photographer extraordinaire, the cooking / pop celeb, financiers, and at last a Mediterranean Lebanese restaurateur who helps me understand the blood boiling of Mediterranean spirit and how it gets a grip on the Nordic still souls... then just as desert starts its midnight dancing on the table the chairs fly back and somewhere between Russian hip hop and good old soul and rock and roll, we rocked adn talked til near dawn... I missed breakfast!
. Fashion lady with red hair - Minttu Vesala ( http://www.minttuvesala.com/
. Viviane Daaboul-Kallio ( http://www.farouge.fi/home ) Her husband Aki
Kallio is the chef of Farouge.
- Hakan Langstedt, - innovative design company called Saas http://www.saas.fi/
DAY 8- SUNDAYY - Mikko, Susanna, Kari , Jaakob
Not all that easy to get up.....and then afternoon it's ----- BACK TO Arabia... and with my own Helsinki T.E. Lawrence, Kari in the Car ! We cruised on a slow Sunday, screeching to halt I keep snapping photos.....1st quick stop was spent talking and visiting Jaakob Solla, a residential architect developer at his home. His house had that wonderful Finnish elegance in every detail , the very screws for the stairs and kitchen , all beautiful to the nth degree.
Indeed seeing the other side of Arabia the design land of IItala and others is a masterpiece of planning and architecture. The mixed use development unfolds in large horseshoe apartments that all glimpse the sea and are all articulated magnificently by individual architects.. The sculpture gardens spill out into the public spaces and on private buildings. It is a stellar beginning. I lamented that there wasn't more coffee shops, retail, cafes etc mixed in at the water side and hope a commercial invasion will eventually give the full Helsinki charm..with a little design corruption and crust it will be a premier example of the best of global mixed use expansion.
We walk by the old water mills and head on back to urbane Helsinki. I rest and have a departing dinner near the water front across from the market with Susanna and Mikko. Great food as usual. And just as I am saying a slow good bye, a new explosion of picking a site for the Shaman Sauna of the Kalevala roars through our conversation, we pillage a map and indeed with glee we map out my next visits and more.... Its agreed we'll check out a site next morning before I leave....Spirit of Place gains a new spirit!!
DAY 9-SUNDAY - , Susanna , FinnAir
I failed to mention the name of the great furniture maker near Fiske we met on Saturday, his name is Kari Virtanen ( http://www.nikari.fi/en/ )
Ready to roll, I pick up Susanna and we do a whirlwind tour of Seurasaari Island Site visit to the open Air Museum of Historic architectural treasures. Wow, the jewels of survival, varied periods of design, the beauty of logs, the fences were so clearly original, and all on a beautiful and magical landscape of trees, rocks, views, icy bays, beige fronds. In minutes, the island brings out an essence that makes the possibility of building the next evolution a possible reality and perhaps a significant contribution to the Finnish History of Design Dialogue.
The question becomes stronger, how do we regenerate the deepest mythical base of Finnish culture using the Kalevala epics to create a new modernist icon for the 21st Century. History is always marked by the next passage of the future. Could the Spirit of Place be a part of that on this island? This island resonated immensely for me.
With a bit of time to spare, I meandered to where I usually never like to go, an indoor mall. I was happily surprised in the Stockman's mega world; a maze of great design moments especially the cafes and the array of all I had seen all week in retail....impressive.
And then the last , but not remotely the least was sheer joy... my favorite combo... architecture and books! The Academic Book Store and Maestro Aalto! Needless to say a grand parting from Helsinki........ for now! Indeed, Heidi is already sporting the latest Kalevala bag from Marimekko and I am preparing to host those in DC on Finnish soil in DC...... What a trip.
My heartfelt thanks to Helsinki, the Finns, and to Mikko, Susanna, and Kari !!!! Travis