6 / 2013 - urbanism, new centres

An urban researcher, urban sociologist and urban planner were invited to discuss the trends in today’s urban development. Kaarin Taipale, Pasi Mäenpää and Teemu Holopainen bring up regional inequality, segregation, the significance of public transportation, the growing importance of centres as well as the problematic connection between massive projects and democratic decision making. The experts review the new mega projects in the Helsinki metropolitan area: Keski-Pasila centre block, Tapiola city-centre, Aalto University campus in Otaniemi, and Keilaniemi.
“The wealthy middle-class moving from the suburbs to the centres is a new trend.”
Urban planning too often is considered through aesthetics and not through concepts and this is where it goes wrong.”
Cities are not built in small pieces anymore, but are built like big cakes where the investors’ interests are given priority.”

The articles delve into the many aspects of the urban phenomenon, taking different points of view from defining what is urbanity to the need of monuments and from the problems of high-rise building to reconstruction after a disaster. Also new means for designing a living urban environment and visions for future cities are presented.


When an urban researcher, an urban planner and an urban sociologist gather around the same table to evaluate the Helsinki metropolitan area's plans for the new centres of Keski-Pasila, Tapiola, Keilaniemi and Otaniemi campus, there will be a lot of questions raised. The experts taking part in the discussion are urban researcher, architect Kaarin Taipale, urban planner, architect Teemu Holopainen and Adjunct Professor of urban sociology Pasi Mäenpää.

A metro station is being built in Tapiola and the centre is densified. Some of the 1970s and 80s commercial buildings will be demolished and, in addition to a new bus terminal, dwellings will be built on top of the new commercial buildings. The old renowned Tapiola centre buildings by Aarne Ervi will be preserved.

Tapiola centre renewal project
HKP Architects, City of Espoo

client Tapiolan alueen kehitys Oy, City of Espoo, Länsimetro Oy, Tapiolan keskuspysäköinti Oy
gross area ~ 440 000 m2
expected completion ~ 2020

Tapiola city-centre and bus station
SARC, Espoo City Planning Department, Espoo City Technical Department
client LähiTapiola group, City of Espoo
gross area 80 000 m2
expected completion 2019

Tapiola metro station
client Länsimetro Oy
gross area 22 145 m2
expected completion 2015

The winning entry for the Aalto University Campus 2015 competition honours the history of Otaniemi and Alvar Aalto's significant buildings. The entrance to the future metro station is an integral part of the new Aalto ARTS building.

Aalto University core campus
Verstas Architects, Espoo City Planning Department
client Aalto-yliopistokiinteistöt Oy
gross area 47 000 m2
expected completion 2016

Aalto University metro station
ALA Architects, Esa Piironen Architects
client Länsimetro Oy
gross area 16 609 m2
expected completion 2015

Four round high-rise apartment buildings have been designed on top of the forthcoming Keilaniemi metro station next to the office district. The solution is based on the reorganisation of Ring Road I and Karhusaarentie street, such that the traffic is directed into a tunnel on the deck above which the new Keilaniemi park will be built.

Keilaniemi towers
SARC, Espoo City Planning Department, Espoo City Technical Department
client SRV yhtiöt Oyj, City of Espoo
gross area 100 000 m2
expected completion 2020

Keilaniemi metro station
ALA Architects, Esa Piironen Architects
client Länsimetro Oy
gross area 18 217 m2
expected completion 2015

The mega project planned for Keski-Pasila will connect East and West Pasila which have been separated by the old railway yard. The centre block "Tripla" will comprise offices, a shopping mall and congress centre, housing, a hotel, a multi-purpose arena and a public transport terminal.

Keski-Pasila centre block
Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), Soini & Horto Architects, Helsinki City Planning Department
client YIT Rakennus Oy
gross area ~ 355 000 m2
expected completion 2021

In the future, according to Helsinki Vision 2050 by the City Planning Department, the motorway-type arteries of Helsinki will be altered into boulevards. The urban structure will live its renaissance.

The vision of the future city presented in the new Helsinki master plan, currently under preparation, has gained deserved attention. There has been talk of the changeover of the designer generation and the return of urbanity. I must agree that the proposed vision is not just a vague business-as-usual paper; instead it takes a strong stance in favour of an urban city structure. Its boldest move is the continuation of the city centre-type fabric all the way out to Helsinki’s inner orbital road, Kehä I, and partly all the way out to the city limits. This would require the conversion of the present motorway-type arteries into boulevards. Although the city centre in the new Helsinki would still be accessible by private car, it would be more difficult than at present.

This is based on the observation that a city with a population reaching 860 000 simply could not digest the consequent increase in car traffic. We must therefore make available alternative modes of transport: efficient public transport, high quality cycling routes and pedestrian nodes. On another note, this scheme finally addresses the ultimate insanity of the access roads slicing through the urban fabric. The big arteries with their intersections and green buffer zones that do not actually provide any protection take up huge amounts of space while they have a huge impact as barriers. Apart from the established city centre, they have largely destroyed the street as a functional and social unit, which has largely contributed to the birth of the present suburban “Gulag Archipelago”.

The vision takes a stand and is bold, but is it particularly visionary? Robots stroll down the streets of the brave new Helsinki and concept cars have been introduced to the market, yet the urban fabric appears totally conventional with its gridiron plan, boulevards, pedestrian streets and corner shops. Can it truly be so that the boldest possible move in urban planning is returning to the past? It may not be a bad thing at all, considering that Modernist urban planning was undoubtedly destructive; even though planners and designers presented themselves as scientific-rational reformers, they in fact had no idea what characteristic features made up a good town or city. At least the traditional city has the benefit of thousands of years of development.

Vision 2050 is not the first time the idea of extending Helsinki’s urban fabric outside the present city centre has been proposed. The inevitable association is with Eliel Saarinen’s Munkkiniemi-Haaga plan from 1915. It, too, was based on the assumption of rapid urbanisation. It was then believed that the population of Helsinki would grow up to 550 000 by the year 1945, and even by the most moderate estimates to 370 000; in fact it remained under 280 000. The interesting fact remains that the centre of gravity for population shifted to the neighbouring district of Munkkiniemi and Haaga, with population densities exceeding that of the city centre. Saarinen never felt it necessary to alter the essential characteristics and structure of the urban fabric, even moving out so far from the city centre of his time. In his plans, streets and blocks continued uninterruptedly to the north; there was no shortage of monumentality in these new districts either. In his Greater Helsinki plan of 1918 he even extended a similar mosaic over areas in the east and the west. Has Saarinen’s unrealised, yet virtuosic plan after all remained dormant in the genetic heritage of Helsinki City Planning Department only to re-emerge in 2013?

However, the Vision 2050 scheme does not remain merely on the level of toying with urban geometrics. The planners have had their ear to the ground for the recent weak signals on the upsurge of urban values: families do not necessarily abandon cities, and the growth of urban perimeter communities has fallen off. City planning issues are debated in social media, e.g. the “Lisää kaupunkia Helsinkiin” group; the Restaurant Day and other events invigorate our public spaces. There has also been a noticeable turn in politics towards urbanity, manifested by the rising cost of parking in the city centre and demands for shifting the expenses for parking onto the shoulders of those who need it. There is evidently a need for a new city plan, and no doubt the actual political wrangling over it will be an interesting episode.

What makes a scheme visionary? In addition to the urban form, there is something else familiar about the new planning proposal that somehow does not quite fit the bill. The “creative destruction” of Modernistic urban planning not only meant the annihilation of the perimeter block and the street, but also the attempt to organise the city according to functions. It seems that the new generation of planners have not been able to rid themselves of this genetic baggage either: Vision 2050 is still organised along the subthemes of living, working, traffic and recreation. You would expect much more from post-functionalist planning! Perhaps the city, increasingly multicultural and full of inequalities, that destroys its ecosystem services and becomes entangled in its systemic dependencies is, after all, something different from the ordered utopia what the Modernists dreamt of.

PhD Kimmo Lapintie is Professor of urban design at Aalto University's Department of Architecture.


A collective put together by young designers wants to participate and take a stand.

Uusi kaupunki collective: Futudesign, Jada, Pro Toto, Studio Puisto, Arkkitehdit Rudanko + Kankkunen, Hukkatila

Näköislehti: Site Logic