Monday, 14 November 2011

Mind map of Snow in the City

Last winter was a very snowy winter also in Helsinki. Snow was everywhere, not only physically but also in the news, in the everyday discussions and in the minds of city dwellers, commuters, janitors.
The amount of the snow was fascinating and overwhelming. It seemed that its effects reach everywhere.
We tried to grasp our fascination of this phenomenon. In a mind map we tried to distinguish some aspects of its diversity.
The mind map stopped evolving as we got used to the snow. Now, with the next winter at the door, is a good time to take a look at it.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Look-out Triangle

My last visit in Hamburg allowed me to look quickly at three projects of rededication. So far the most famous is probably the the old warehouse which is going to give home to the Elbphilharmonie. The architects Herzog & de Meuron grafted a glass sculpture onto an old warehouse. While the bricks of the warehouse end at an height of 37m the glass swings up to 110 m. The final building will accommodate not only a concert hall, but also a hotel and apartments. At the fringe between brick and glass a space called public plaza will offer a look-out to all directions.

Further south in the river Elbe is located Wilhelmsburg, an island currently hosting the InternationaleBauausstellung IBA Hamburg (international building exhibition). One of IBA's projects is the reuse of a garbage hill 40m high. From the 1940s to 1979 all kinds of debris, waste and toxic liquids were collected. The groundwater next to the hill is contaminated and the decomposing garbage releases a considerable amount of landfill gas. The new concept Energieberg (energy hill) includes not only cleaning of groundwater but also the collection and the use of the gas for heat production. The hill is used as an elevated site for a wind energy plant and photovoltaic panels are mounted on the southern flank. The architects Häfner, Jimenez and Konermann designed a walkable loop around the hill-top. It will offer a look-out to all directions.

The third project of rededication is an old bunker of World War II in Wilhelmsburg, which stood unused for 63 years. The new concept Energiebunker (energy bunker) will place a coupled heat and power plant inside the bunker and photovoltaic panels on the top and southern facade. At the height of 30m there is space for a coffee place and a terrace with a look-out to all directions. 

Designed as goodies for three very different edifices the look-outs can lift you soon on an artificial level floating some 35m above the harbour and Wilhelmsburg.
Me on the energy hill  - at one level with the energy bunker (left) and Elbphilharmonie (right)

Sunday, 21 August 2011


After 5 weeks of holidays the first look on our city garden was impressive! It is green, it flourishes, it brims over. While I was still doubtful at the beginning of this summer, what that gardening is all about, I got now some pretty good answers.
Simo invited us to participate and he took car of the garden over the last weeks. When I asked him, why he joined that project he didn't have to think a second:

 “I've felt always the strong need to do something with soil and plants, to grow something. The queue for the real allotment gardens is far too long, my grandma’s place has enough space to grow vegetables, but it is too far to go there every weekend. So this is an easy way to grow my own vegetables. Sure, the yield won’t be overwhelming. From an economical point of view it is not reasonable, but it is a great opportunity to use this void space for temporary gardening.”

Still, it is his answer and I had to find my own:

It is a very pleasant feeling to harvest your own vegetables!
The yield of this little bit of soil is bigger than I expected. The amount (and the size) of the courgettes are evidence enough that it is more than a game for city kids. We got cucumbers and spinach galore. The herbs smell delicious. The field salad shows its first leaves. And I'm curious what we can expect form the potatoes.

The garden makes people happy!
Kids were pointing on cucumbers, tomatoes and the green of carrots, people were enjoying the green spot between heaps of concrete and asphalt pavement, smelling flowers and taking pictures, strolling on with a smile.

Friday, 19 August 2011

The hidden front sides

This summer I became a rower. Two times a week we were practicing for the biglongboat rowing event in Sulkava. The training took place in the bays on the border between Helsinki and Espoo. Each training had a length of 10 to 15 km.
These routes opened for me a new perspective on Helsinki! Sitting in the longboat I got a view on parts of the city that are otherwise hidden behind walls or buildings or surrounded by well-trimmed hedgerows.

Along the shores of the small islands Kuusisaari (1) and Kaskisaari (2) big windows allow a glimpse into spacious living rooms and on a broad selection of design furniture, boats are tied to landing stages, the mowed lawn expects the residents of the house. It is probably in the interest of the owners that there is not much information and limited view from the landside on these houses. One of the few exceptions is a newhousing complex partly standing on pillars (3) in the sea in Lauttasaari designed by NRT architects.

Also the residence of theFinish President in Mäntyniemi (4), the last work of the couple Reima and Raili Pietilä, is visible from the seaside better than on land.

The restaurant Keilaranta (5), designed by Aarne Ervi in 1951, is hidden behind big office buildings, but open to the sea.
The rowingstadium (6), that was built for the Finish Olympic Games in 1952 and designed by Hilding Ekelund, opens its stand for the spectators naturally to the seaside. Unfortunately, it wasn't used for the Olympic rowing events, because the spot is to windy. Today the rows of seats are mostly empty, only the facilities inside the building are more frequently in use.

A sight of its own is Salmisaari (7). The court buildings are located there, originally planned by VäinöVähäkallio in 1936 as a factory and headquarter of the Finnish state alcohol monopoly (Alko). Its front to the sea is adorned with a relief by GunnarFinne. A little bit to the south stands Raimo Utianen's monument “Vooki” commissioned by Alko in 1974. A little bit to the north are the “too heavy visitors” (liian painavat vieraat), a rough stone sculpture by Maria Duncker set up in 2010.

All this seems to be the perfect opposite to the untidy backyards that you can spot only from a train rolling into the city. Iggy Pop rides “through the city's backside” and sees “the city's ripped insides” (The Passenger). I have to sit in a longboat and spot Helsinki's bright front sides.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Growing Season

The picture is misleading:
we take care of only three bags
Our little garden is getting green! We put there:
  • herbs (thyme and rosemary)
  • tomatoes
  • courgettes
  • spinach
  • peas
  • onions
  • some kind of salad
How is it going to grow? Are we going to get really some kind of yield? Why did we join that project? What do we get out of it besides some green stuff? Is it rather a game for city kids than having a “real” garden?
For now I'll continue watering and thinking.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Brownfields and Gardening

Our gardening bags
We got the chance to participate in some city gardening on the area of a former harbour in Helsinki. The area is called Kalasatama (fish harbour). It was in use harbour for passengers and goods until 2008 and is currently transformed into a new part of Helsinki for 18 000 inhabitants and 10 000 workplaces. When the ships left, but the houses aren't there yet, there is time for interim use.
Having observed the changing harbour area over the last years, I'm excited to see, how our active participation between wasteland and new construction sites works out. The fields (gardening bags) are prepared for the seeds and seedlings to come.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

City of lost gloves

During the winters, I'd  think about my city as the city of lost gloves.
Hundreds of them lay around the in the public, semi-public spaces. For some reason, they make me sad - they are torn form their pairs, they are torn from the hand they were made to keep warm. They also remind of my own experiences of losing a dear glove.
Still there is something, that lifts my mood. Most of the lost gloves I spot, are lovingly lifted from the ground by the finder and placed on top of something, garbage can, railing, bushes. So the glove is saved from the soles and tyres, and will be easy for the owner to find when he/she comes around again.
But actually, as most of the gloves I spotted were along my regular routes, I saw that the gloves were usually still there after weeks, after months.
This winter I started to photograph the gloves. This activity definetely made winter more bearable for me.

Are you prepared?

Sea level leaker. Source:
Centre Culturel de Taïwan à Paris
Quite a number of cities try to get prepared for storm surges and sea level rise on the long run. Rotterdam aims at a holistic “climate proof” and Copenhagen has a climate adaptation plan that hopes to turn challenges into opportunities. Under the title "Rising Currents" the Museum of Modern Art in New York commissioned visions for future amphibious living in five areas along the coast-line of New York and New Jersey. The town planning department of Helsinki prepared a flood strategy that deals with current flood risk and sea level rise that is to come.
These are only some examples in the western hemisphere.

High tide heels. Source:
Paul Schietekat,
high tide heels
However, sometimes it is wise to be prepared personally. A useful tool to find out, whether you are in flood prone area on not, might be the sea level leaker developed by Tsui Kuang-Yu. The suit leaks water up to the actual sea level as soon as you move in an area below sea level. The picture on the right is a stand-still of a video showing Tsui Kuang-yu with the sea level leaker in Amsterdam.

Living in these areas might need some amphibious skills. The high tide heels designed by Paul Schietekat can help you to be prepared and dressed in style at the same time.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Discover your town!

Lately I was looking for a birthday present for my nephew. In the bookshop's children's section my  interest was attracted by a book titled “Entdecke Deine Stadt” (Discover Your Town! A city safari for kids). What, did I miss something?! I know, where I am and,  my town is not that small that it could be overlooked easily.
Well, an example on one of the first pages of the book explained it to me: We know, where we live, but can we describe, in which type of house we are living? Can we compare it's advantages and draw-backs to other house types? And why is our house exactly where it is?
Why do we know more about car models and football players than the street we are living in?
The book strives to change that. It nudges us to  go out and to explore our town. It offers as set of ideas and tools to find our way and to get lost, for describing what we see, feel and hear on our way, and finally, how to change things that we don't like in our city.
It starts with easy games, like “collecting five round items from the street” or looking for faces in buildings and buildings as letters. It explains, how city planning works and why a town is never ready and  what it takes to fit all the citizens' needs into the same area. A glossary helps to understand the basic terms.
It encourages you to take action: to write about the places you like, to mark the places you don't like. How to change the city with street art or guerrilla gardening. Obviously the authors are aware of the fact that some of the suggested practices might cause trouble despite their good intention. So they recommend to get the back-up of your parents.
Features with interviews with kids, architects and city planners make the book even more lively.
By reading the book I got pretty excited and I could have dug my own little guerrilla garden right in front of the book store. But wait! Isn't the book meant for kids? What's the right age?
Obviously adults can have fun with the book too. At the same time kids might struggle with “violation of privacy” (Verletzung der Privatsphäre) or “small- or medium-sized towns” (Klein- und Mittelstädte). These terms are not explained in the glossary.
I was a little bit alienated by the strong sides, the book takes with public transport, walking, cycling and greening and renaturation in the city. Don't get me wrong,  I don't want more cars and soil sealing in the city! But somehow I expect a kid to form its own opinion with all the great tools to discover the town.

Now I discovered the book for me. Soon my nephew and me will go on expedition and discover the town.

Entdecke Deine Stadt Stadtsafari für Kinder

Anke M. Leitzgen & Lisa Reinermann, Beltz & Gelberg, 2010
Here you can catch a glimpse of the book's content.