1 / 2015 - young ideas

“I wanted to find out how to make the world a better place and still earn a living.”

“The era of neo-liberalism has effectively foreclosed the possibility of any objectives other than those promoting competition, efficiency and profit.”

“The users play a key role in producing the meanings of architecture.”

“Finding truly sustainable solutions requires strong local involvement.”

“The local nuances and style that express cultural distinctiveness will make a comeback.”

“There are no reasons to continue with this plain style.”

“Who, as a conscious gesture, dresses all in black?”

“Thou shalt cherish diversity. Megatrends have served to make Finland a mind-numbingly uniform place.”

“Working life becomes increasingly fragmented and we must adapt. The world is changing and we must try to correspond to change.”

In the latest issue young architects write about the issues they find important, the themes selected by the authors themselves. The future makers want to bring architecture into people’s everyday lives. They want to work together with the users, determine design projects in a new way, fight the climate change and increase global equality by designing projects for the residents of poor countries. The role of starchitect is no longer interesting. What is essential is that work is meaningful and matches one’s own values. The young advertise their values actively through different means of media, e.g. in a TV-series.

In addition to the articles, the magazine features buildings by young architects. The architecture can be viewed in the light of the ideas put forward in the articles. Is there anything identifiable about the contents of the writings that is reflected on the built forms?

Contents

Young architects feel that bringing architecture into people’s everyday lives is important. They want to work together with the users and determine design projects in new ways. One of the characteristics of this phenomenon is the wish to increase global equality by designing projects for the residents of poor countries in Africa and Asia. The change of spirit can be seen all around the world, and in Finland also. The change is reflected on in articles by ten young architects. The idea behind this issue emerged during discussions with the Uusi Kaupunki Collective.

Designing together with users creates an opportunity to find new depths in architecture. Participation makes people demand better quality.


The founders of
Uusi Kaupunki Collective got together in the winter of 2013 to discuss what kind of goals our young architectural firms have and whether we could achieve them better if we worked together. One of the unifying thoughts was to develop cities through involvement of the residents and other important stakeholders in the design process. We tailored a practical workshop-based service for cities, enabling the residents to take part in the design process from the beginning. This design method is not new but its importance and popularity are increasing. Indira van ‘t Klooster, the editor-in-chief of A10 magazine which focuses on European architecture, gave a lecture at the Museum of Finnish Architecture last year and told about the rise of participatory design and the expansion of job descriptions, particularly among young architects. I myself first came across participatory design when working on my master’s thesis in which I proposed transforming a woodchip silo, located in Oulu and designed by Alvar Aalto, into a community art centre. Designing together with the users made me wonder if sharing the decision-making responsibility would water down the actual plan. As the project progressed, I realised that working together allows us to give a new kind of depth to architecture.


In Finland, participatory urban planning has been included in the Land Use and Building Act. The aim of a participatory approach is to ensure the involvement of the public and the quality of the environment during the planning phase. This ideology fits well into the Nordic concept of democracy. Those working in town planning are already familiar with having the stakeholders involved. The current practice has, however, been heavily criticised. Residents may feel that their involvement is purely symbolic. Understanding the zoning map requires experience and sometimes the plans have already progressed so far that comments will no longer have an impact. From the perspective of those carrying out the projects, there is a risk of delays, for example, due to complaints. Uusi Kaupunki Collective’s workshops have a different approach, asking the residents’ opinions before anything has been done. The ideas presented will be used to form a synthesis that will be visualised as a plan. Our aim with this early stage involvement has been to make it easily accessible, which is why we do design work where the people are, in public spaces.                 

Why get the people involved if not required by law? Participatory design is also referred to as co-design and co-creation as well as user or human-centred design. It is more common when designing objects as it is used for ensuring customer satisfaction and investigating the market needs. For many companies it is also a way to come up with entirely new product or service ideas. User involvement can be utilised on three levels: by collecting information about the user, by designing together with the user or by acting as a facilitator while the user does the design work. User involvement can also add value to, for example, marketing. This could also be the case for architecture. User involvement offers an opportunity to find and reform design solutions.


Various working methods have been developed to support user involvement. The globally known design consulting firm IDEO has compiled a wide selection of methods in one book. They have created a method called “The Three Lenses of Human-Centered Design”. According to IDEO, if you wish to create a successful product, you have to pay attention to its desirability, feasibility and viability, in this order. Desirability is based on understanding the needs, dreams and behaviours of the people. We should view a project through the desirability lens throughout the design process and only later we should consider the aspects of feasibility and viability. The idea behind this is that the users are the best experts in their own needs and practices.

The necessity of participatory design depends on our view of architecture and what we aim to achieve through our design. Heterotopic architecture based on a changing space emphasises the view that building and urban environments are lived spaces. Thus the users play a key role in producing the meanings of architecture.

Could we also utilise a human-centred design method to add value to the designing of cities and buildings? When people are involved and feel that they can influence their environment, they will also be committed to it and accept the changes related to it more readily. In my experience, involvement in the design process and understanding the aims of the process makes people demand better quality from their environment. That is, in principle, what we architects also try to achieve. ark

Heikki Riitahuhta is a Helsinki-based architect and partner of Studio Puisto, member office of the Uusi Kaupunki Collective.

Uusi Kaupunki Collective:
Futudesign
Hukkatila
JADA
Pro-Toto
Studio Puisto
Architects Rudanko+Kankkunen
LUO architects
AOR
www.uusi-kaupunki.fi

 

The Nordic South of North network helps poor areas in Africa and Asia with its projects. However, sharing skills and knowledge is more important than just the buildings.


The South of North network consists of 12 emerging Nordic architecture teams who have all realised projects in developing areas. The formation of the network was originally inspired by the experiences of Inari Virkkala and myself working with similar kinds of projects, both in foreign contexts. Komitu Architects, of which Virkkala is a member, was designing a youth centre in Cambodia, and I was working with an on-going project for a children’s centre in Tanzania, in collaboration with Asante Architecture & Design. Both of us felt a need to reflect on and evaluate the impact of our work. Together with Elina Tenho and Noora Aaltonen, backed by the Ukumbi organisation, we invited other Nordic teams to join the network.

The teams met in various seminars throughout the winter and spring 2013–14. The outcome of these discussions, combined with a profound analysis of the executed works, was set up as a traveling exhibition launched at Helsinki Design Week. Later, the network was extended by establishing new connections between African and Nordic architects in a seminar organised as an official part of the 2014 Venice Biennale of Architecture. During the whole process, five central themes arose, shared by all of the teams in their work.


Architecture as a dialogue. When the cultural environment differs greatly from the designer’s own cultural background, communication is a challenge and architectural representations often replace words. Everyone can understand a model. Model building can also empower and create ownership of the projects. The participation of local stakeholders in the design processes from early on is of high importance, and sometimes the collaboration also requires improvisation.

Self-build approach. Many of the teams have extended beyond the conventional roles of an architect by participating in the construction work. When carried out correctly, both architects and local communities can be strengthened by learning new skills. However, the ideas of desirability and modernity sometimes differ between a local community and a foreign architect. While a construction made of natural materials can be beautiful, cheap and energy efficient, it might require more maintenance on the part of its users. Finding truly sustainable solutions requires strong local involvement. Collaborative building with gradual experimentation is one possible way of getting there.

Architecture, space, beauty. Architectural quality can inspire positive change, and aesthetics carry social value far beyond the actual look and feel of a building. Most importantly, aesthetics is a strong tool for promoting ecological solutions. However, in order to do so, interaction with the end users and local ownership are crucial. Working with architecture as a democratic tool, a building or a space has the ability of becoming a symbol of pride and ownership – in any given community. All these projects are designed with consideration given to the place, the users, and the way people experience architecture. An interpretation of regional architectural ideas is a shared motive behind the design solutions. Some of the buildings also intend to carry a symbolic value and attract attention. The care for detailing is high, although the materials used might be cheap and construction is sometimes carried out quickly.

Impact and assessment. Some teams describe their work as “slow architecture” and are fully integrated in the community. Alternatively, some teams design and build on site during a few intensive weeks. One can respond well to a humanitarian need with fast architecture and quick solutions. However, in order to achieve social impact that goes beyond the individual building, long lasting relationships might give better results: happy clients and correctly targeted resources.

Some of the South of North teams have ensured a return to their sites, in order to carry out follow-ups on their projects. These experiences show that sometimes the projects change expression over time as they are modified for new purposes. It depicts an on-going process of a building being adapted to the needs of the users, still containing some of the original qualities, but in a state of constant change. Some projects have lost the former shine portrayed in the glossy images of the media, but they are in use and fulfil the original intention. Some buildings are standing still, quietly waiting for a user. This says more about the eagerness of the teams to help than their ability to find the most pressing need. Sharing these stories and learning from them is the main purpose of the South of North network, and it will strengthen the participant’s ability to implement successful work in the future.


One of the most important lessons was, however, the outcome of the discussion in the Biennale: Africa, as well as the rest of the developing regions, needs to stand up on its own feet. Strengthening the capacity of local designers is perhaps the best way to contribute to global equality. As the amount of architectural faculties and the level of education in many parts of the world is still low, sharing our knowledge and inspiring local designers can have results more tangible and long-lasting than a physical building ever can. ark

Pilvi Vanamo is a Stockholm-based architect and one of the founding members of the South of North network.

South of North network:
Architectural Environmental Strategies, Sweden www.aesstudio.org
Arkitekter utan gränser, Sweden www.arkitekterutangranser.se
Asante Architecture & Design, Sweden www.asante.se
Lönnqvist & Vanamo Architects, Sweden www.lovarch.se
Hollmén Reuter Sandman, Finland www.hollmenreutersandman.com
Komitu Architects, Finland (www.komituarchitects.org)
Rudanko+Kankkunen Architects, Finland www.rudanko-kankkunen.com
Gyaw Gyaw, Norway/Thailand www.gyaw.org
Rintala–Eggertson Architects, Norway www.ri-eg.com
Rå Arkitektur, Norway www.raarkitektur.wordpress.com
TYIN Tegnestue, Norway www.tyintegnestue.no
Arkitekter Uden Grænser, Denmark www.arkitekterudengraenser.dk
Hildur Isdal Thorgeisdottir, Iceland
www.southofnorth.info

 

The unspoken message behind wearing black is the possession of secrets. The spirit of the times has changed and architects should not hide behind black clothes anymore.


Emily Segal, a member
of the trend-forecasting group K-HOLE, held a fascinating talk at MoMA PS1 in New York in the summer of 2013. In her short presentation she attempted to unravel the sociology and semiotics of dressing in black in contemporary culture. As an architect, that is, an individual who associates himself with the “dressed in black 24/7” meme, I was immediately locked in.

The presentation offered promising provisional answers to questions such as: Why is black associated with luxury? Why is black always cool? And above all, who, as a conscious gesture, dresses all in black, or – within the wider framework of western culture – whose dressing in black matters most?

To paraphrase Andrea Branzi, we have moved from an architectural civilisation via a commodity-driven one to an informational one. That is, we express ourselves and produce value primarily as abstract information, data and meanings. Segal’s thoughts reflected this understanding of history. Following her argument, the concept of luxury was in the 20th century associated with the ownership of conspicuous luxury consumer goods. But now, in the 2010s, the focus has shifted towards information, access to exclusive networks and the knowledge concealed within these. At the same time, the image of luxury has become increasingly black – as in the examples of Uber, Amex Black, Comme des Garçons Black and the Bläk private nightclub in Helsinki.

Since information in itself has become democratised, what becomes luxurious and at the same time influential is to be in possession of information that others don’t have, but which they want to get their hands on. In other words, secrets. The more systematically secrets are organised into a coherent model or idea of the world, the more desirable and more valuable – both culturally and financially – they become. The problem is, of course, how to communicate one’s possession of secrets without revealing them to others. The solution arrives in the form of a sticky meme: dressing in black. According to Segal, the implicit message of the "conscious" dressing in black is therefore being in possession of secrets. The more plausible this assertion is, and the more coveted the secrets hidden away are, the stronger the aura and mystique will be that the subject in all-black has built around him or herself.

Good examples of the aura of cloaking in black and the cultural capital connected to it are found in the ecclesiastical tradition, the architect in the latter half of the 20th century and the contemporary tech-guru – the purest archetype of the latter is Steve Jobs, who for decades persistently wore a black Issey Miyake polo-neck sweater. The mystique of all three groups has been supported by the world models they’ve held exclusive rights to, and which the rest of culture has wanted to be part of: eschatology, the modern project and its inherent idea of trained, "objective" good taste, or the exceptional pattern recognition of the latent technology needs and desires of the masses.


But why now, when dressing in black is supposedly more meaningful that perhaps ever before, do architects, particularly the representatives of my own generation and those slightly younger, based on empirical evidence, no longer dress in all black?

Ingrained in my memory is the picture spread at the end of the book 40/40. Young Architects from Finland, published at the turn of the millennium. A group photo, taken inside the no longer existing restaurant Pravda, of the Generation X Finnish architects. In the spirit of the times, the group, framed by an interior décor inspired by “milky no-place aesthetics of airports and “lounges”, is serious, systematically robed in black and comes across as the embodiment of the collective cool – that is, chilled, distant, and mysterious. The message was clear: in order to get their share of the unique secrets that these architects were holding, the rest of culture had to come to them. Finnish architects had perhaps never looked as cool and relevant – at least not in my own mind, then only contemplating studying architecture.

It would be impossible to imagine a photo in a similar vein of the approachable, participatory, smiling, post-it-sticker-wielding young architects of 2015. This can be seen as a symptom of the loss of cultural capital within the profession. The cool and distant black dresser remains forever alone, as there are no takers for his or her secrets. While the Zeitgeist of the 2010’s crystallised-into-an-archetype is the start-up entrepreneur, a decade earlier the same position was held by the "designer" – be it a graphic, user-interface, network, interactive or other similar designer – who also wore black, albeit a degree more expensive than the architect, mystified behind the smoke screen of “the digital”, which at the time few others understood. Architect’s could somewhat bathe in the glow of this aura, but in reality the architect’s loss of cultural significance had occurred already at some point in the late 1980s.


Architecture does not have any objectively determinable intrinsic value. Thus it obtains its value and meaning through what else it enables (or excludes). Similarly, the architect as a creator of architecture is a prisoner of his or her circumstances or client. An architect’s cultural capital is coupled with whatever goals beyond architecture itself the project serves. As the era of neo-liberalism that began in the late 1980s has effectively foreclosed the possibility of any objectives and narratives other than those promoting competition, efficiency and profit – and simultaneously, from the Finnish angle, the concept of "national projects" has faded – the architect no longer appears as the builder of a better, more beautiful world. This space in our collective imagination is now occupied by an idealised start-up entrepreneur. Architecture rarely any longer expresses anything beyond itself and the economic logic that it has given birth to. In our collective imagination, the idea of the architect no longer refers to anything beyond itself and the processes it serves.

The dozens of essays I have read in recent years contemplating the existential crisis or disappearance of meaning of the architect or architecture tend to offer some kind of therapeutic solution to the situation, which is usually associated with the redefinition of the concepts of either the ‘architect’ or ‘architecture’ or both. I myself have come to the conclusion that there really is no "problem" for which to seek a solution. It is inevitable that cultural evolution contains periods when the character we have called “architect” is not at the centre of the becoming and reproduction of civilisation. Perhaps the architect’s relationship today with the surrounding culture is analogous to the situation of the churches and parishes of the Protestant world. They, too, suffer from the evaporation of cultural capital, mystique and aura. Rebranding does not work, and the redefinition of the core product would be just fooling yourself and the general public. The only possibility for a change of direction is a wider, independent cultural shake-up and reorganisation of values.

Time – and culture within it – is not a line or a cycle but a spiral. Everything will return in due course, but in a new form. In other words, it is inevitable that sooner or later the architect will again be in possession of something mystical, which the rest of culture – whatever it will look like – wants to be a part of. Or, conversely, at some point in the future we will again be facing a moment when the creation of space will be topical for the redefinition of civilisation itself. My own ambivalent guess is that the moment will be fuelled by and receive its meaning from the large-scale reorganisation of the Earth’s human habitation, as forced on it by climate change and resource crises and enabled by decentralised communication technology. This concerns also Finland.

While waiting for it, better to not wear all black. The message is untrue. ark

Martti Kalliala is a Helsinki-based architect and multi-tasking cultural activist.

 

Bronda Restaurant
architects Risto Wikberg, Auvo Lindroos, Teemu Seppänen, Aleksi Niemeläinen, Iikka Airas
address Eteläesplanadi 20, Helsinki
gross area 600 m2
completion 2014
original building Keijo Petäjä 1975

Youth centre
architects Noora Aaltonen, Sisko Hovila, Tuuli Kassi, Maiju Suomi, Elina Tenho, Inari Virkkala
address #67, St. 2011, Kouk Khleang, Phnom Penh, Kambodža
gross area 258 m2 + 132 m2 (terraces)
completion 2014

The architecture teaching in Aalto University has been reformed. Collaboration between academic chairs has increased, professorates have been regrouped and the sensitivity to react to cultural phenomena has improved.


When Aalto University’s
department of architecture merged in 2012 with the University of Art and Design Helsinki, it became necessary to consider the connection between architecture education and the other fields of design and art, as well as developing a common teaching programme with these fields. With the creation of Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture (ARTS) also the operations of the department of architecture have become more strategic, clearer in their objectives and more sensitive in reacting to the phenomena of culture than previously was the case. Fortunately, however, an ideology incorporating reports and performance indicators has not thrown out the original core of the education with the bath water, but now more than previously it is design expertise and the promotion of the field of architecture that form the basis of quality control and the funding the department receives. The quality of architecture education is measured by the actions and success of recently qualified architects.

The transition period has afforded the opportunity to consider whether the department’s operations correspond with contemporary requirements. Examples of changes in the operational environment include the increase in multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary operations, sustainable development, digitalisation, co-design and the culture of sharing. The architects’ mandate requires intelligence and interactive skills, and the desire to improve things and right the wrongs of the world rather than being a technical performer. Along with the planning of the reform of the degree programme, an inspiring debate has emerged about the development of the field.

Among the recognised strengths of Otaniemi’s department of architecture are landscape architecture, the tradition of public building and competition successes, as well as its new source of pride, research and experimental construction in wood architecture. By renewing the degree programme and by regrouping the professorships, we have aimed to endorse the department’s strengths and also create new operational requirements.

One important factor in the renewal of the degree programme has been increasing both the cooperation between the different teaching areas of the university and the options available to the students. There is now more cooperation than ever before with engineers, and there are many basic courses that are shared with the university’s other art fields. The teaching programmes have also opened their courses to others in the form of minor courses. It has been agreed in our own department that all members of the academic staff will carry out teaching, research and artistic design work. New teachers are selected not only on the basis of their scientific and artistic credentials but on the synergy of these two, so that the skills and suitability of the person are assessed case by case.

The department’s professorships have been organised into five groups, each of which comprises three chairs with their own staff, that is, approximately ten faculty members. The groups support the internal collaboration between the different sub-areas of architecture. There is nothing preventing collaboration also beyond the borders of these focus groups.

The BASE group comprises Basics of Architecture, History of Architecture and Building Design – the traditional basic elements of architecture education. In the SPACE group (public and private space) are Housing Design, Urban Planning and Urban Design. The chairs of the groups share lecturers and courses have been combined. In their study assignments, students slide with ease between the scales of the city, urban block and individual building. The SMART group (The Art of Structures and Materials) brings together the most technical chairs, Structural Design, Building Technology and Wood Architecture. The LAND group is formed by the staff of the Landscape Architecture studies programme. We succeeded in acquiring a third professorship for the latter studies programme.

In addition to regrouping the old professorships, a completely new focus group has been established, for which three new professorships were acquired. This so-called Group X is focused on charting and developing new trends in architecture. The professorships are in Wellbeing Architecture, which promotes building within the fields of the community and health care, Service Architecture, which develops architecture from the viewpoint of urban planning and value creation, thus competing for instance with service designers, and Emergent Design Methodologies, where I myself operate. The task of Group X is playfully to challenge the operations of the other focus groups, even though it also arranges joint courses with them. Group X has an important role in the cooperation between the different fields in our department and also acts as a link to ADDLAB, the university’s laboratory of digital design.

The collaborative nature of the focus groups is supported by the department’s spatial solutions. The permanent academic staff of each group has been placed in the same space, which indeed has created unprecedented debate and cooperation between the professorships. It has been heart-warming to see that nowadays, for instance, the people in Urban Design and Urban Planning often talk to each other. ark

Antti Ahlava is Professor of Emergent Design Methodologies at Aalto University as well as Vice President of the university.

 

Näköislehti: Site Logic