Finnish design is today probably mainly associated with its history from the Saarinens, to Aalto, Wirkkala, and Tapiovaara, producers/brands such as Artek, Iittala, Arabia, Marimekko, and perhaps contemporaries such as Kukkapuro and Koskinen. This design heritage is omnipresent throughout Helsinki’s restaurants, bars and public spaces, from Tapiovaara chairs and Aalto pendants to pieces by lesser known designers like Paavo Tynell, Lisa Johansson-Pape and Werner West.
Helsinki Design Week 2015 takes place all over the city with approximately 200 events and locations for the duration of the week. Although this may seem overwhelming at first, the compact size of the central districts, the human scale as it is, makes it manageable and pleasant to get around. Central Helsinki is characterized by its particular style of national romantic Jugend architecture and austere neoclassical buildings. Compared to other Scandinavian hubs the city has relatively few traces of functionalism and contemporary nordic architecture, albeit with some notable exceptions like the slightly brutalist high rise projects of Merihaka and the ongoing development of the West Harbor areas. But the most notable exceptions are of course some of the most iconic Helsinki buildings such as the marble clad Finlandia Hall and the repetitive copper facade of the Academic Bookshop both by Aalto of course and the Glass Palace, Lasipalatsi, at the heart of the city by an architect team headed by Viljo Revell. And so on.
Helsinki Design Week 2015 is however not primarily about the past, but the present and the future, the main hub of events is L3 Design Dock a parallel venue to the larger Habitare tradeshow. The venue is a repurposed warehouse in the West Harbor district, hosting local and global brands such as Nikari, Herman Miller, Secto, Isku et cetera, but also student exhibits of Aalto University and Metropolia University. Japanese Design Revisited by Lexus is another small exhibit curated by Konstfack affiliated Ikko Yokoyama, providing a small cross-section of current practices ranging from the social design projects of Takt Project and Exiii to Minä Perhonen’s ephemeral world of fashion. Somewhere in between Jun Murakoshi has drawn inspiration from traditional ceramics to make SO a collection of 3d printed vases complete with a rubber based “overglaze”. Nao Tamura’s Flow(t) is a series of glass pendants tat are more interpretive, representing the skyline of Venice and it’s reflection suggesting the city’s submersed foundation.
In all fairness, as informative as all of the exhibitors and brands are, the most innovative and compelling exhibits are held in a different section of the L3 Design Docks where no accreditation needed. One such is the Samuli Naamanka mid-career retrospective or perhaps introduction depending your depth of knowledge of Finish design. Sharing space with Naamanka is SYBARIS, an exhibit by students of Aalto U design department. The source of inspiration for SYBARIS is the eponymous ancient greek city and its inhabitants reputation for pursing pleasure and luxury. The Sybarites’ legacy of hedonism and cultural refinement provides the thematic point of departure for these one-offs, mixing conceptual artefacts with craft techniques. Monica Romagnoli’s Oxymoron is an object with a raw wooden appearance, and seems to be a synthesis of an medieval torture device and folk craft. With this piece Romagnoli wants to explore the dualistic relationship of pain and pleasure. Similarly Laura Maldonado Guisado‘s mystic triptych MIMAME encourage exploration of corporeal sensations. The three objects of the piece are assembled from materials with different properties and various shapes creating unexpected sensory experiences.
Delphine Lewandowski wants to engage both mind and body with her COG2, a big 3d burr puzzle in glazed ceramics. The combination of the large size and the precarious material constitute a sort of mindfulness tool demanding the users full attention and presence. Further exploring the limits of the material are the precarious paperclay ceramic vases by Anni-Marja Kuula. The organically shaped mirror objects of Tuula Vitie seems to echo Nanna Dietzl’s silver jewelry for Georg Jensen.
A different type of collaborative exhibition titled 1+1+1 brings together designers from three nordic countries for an ongoing experiment, Petra Lilja from Sweden, Aalto+Aalto from Finland and Icelandic duo Hugdetta. The project is set up in such a way that each unit designs a part of a furniture type without knowing what the others are doing. Sort of a design version of picture consequence. For the final reveal the parts are assembled in different constellations and variations creating 27 different versions. The first installation of 1+1+1 was held earlier this year at Design March 2015 on Iceland. Now, for the second run of 1+1+1 at HDW the designers bring a much more complex collection of cabinets. The third and final stop for 1+1+1 will be in Stockholm, presumably for SDW 2016.Sharing space with 1+1+1 is Kattetu, an exhibition of woodworks, ceramics and prints by Helsinki based Wesley Walters, Salla Luhtasela and Reeta Ek. Although still MA students Walters and Luhtasela has already had some impressive clients, creating for instance craeded wooden utensils and ceramic items for renowned Michelin Restaurant Ask in Helsinki. At HDW they offer a sneak peak of furniture made for an upcoming exhibition in Mexico. Drawing from Finnish design aesthetics, and ethics, the sleek sofa is decidedly contemporary in appearance and construction. Similarly, the seat of Walter’s graceful and understated wooden stool, was inspired by his fascination for a type of wooden door handles common in the entrances of apartment buildings from the 1930’s and onwards.
As mentioned previously, there are some 200 events and venues taking place during the HDW, but if there is one essential pick outside of the L3, a visit to the truly innovative and idiosyncratic COMPANY is a must.