Sunday, 9 December 2012

Rolling or gliding in Helsinki?

Since about three or four years, I have realized, the beginning of winter brings the same sequence of external events, personal action and drifting thoughts: first come slippery roads, then I put winter tyres on my bike. Then comes snow and, despite the marvellous job the snowploughs do,there comes the day, when I’m standing in knee-high snow heaps on the bike lane and wish for a kicksled.
A kicksled was or (maybe still is) a popular vehicle used by older ladies in wintertime further north and outside Helsinki. But then again, in Helsinki there are a lot of snowploughs and they distribute a lot of gravel on sidewalks and bike lanes. Many streets shine in clean black tarmac, despite one and a half meter of snow otherwise. So, basically the kicksled as an ideal mode of transport is ruled out in favour of vehicles (mostly cars, but also bicycles lose compared to sleds and skis) that struggle in winter despite all the effort.
Leaving work the other day I was very happy to see: A kicksled neatly parked next to my bike. So it is possible! Will I glide on skids next winter instead of rolling on spiked tyres?

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Small details

Graf-Schack-Allee, Schwerin, Germany
(Photo: Hanns Joosten)
In most cases fringes of public flower-beds do not attract much of my attention. In two cases however small additions made me wonder. What’s the difference? While in Schwerin (Graf-Schack-Allee) the edge is covered with steel, in Oslo (Dronning Mauds gate) small metal pimples are mounted on top of the stone fringe.
At least my perception of aesthetics tells me that the pimples are rather on the ugly side. But why do you need metal bars or pimples at all?

Obviously flower-bed fringes are popular places for skaters and curb grinding. Many conventional stones don’t stand grinding for a very long time (e.g. in Helsinki). So planners of public spaces react, either in favour of skaters or against. What do you prefer?

Dronning Mauds Gate, Oslo, Norway
In front of Kiasma, Helsinki, Finland

Addendum: The promenade in Schwerin was designed by Häfner and Jimenez, who are also responsible for the walkable loop in Hamburg-Wilhelmsburg.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Take Home Messages

Take-home message about maps

Architecture of consequence - Dutch Designs on the Future is an exhibition that is currently on in the Norwegian National Museum - Architecture ( My visit in the exhibition was enjoyable and I liked, how the concept of take home messages was put into place: concise messages on business card-sized papers to take with you.
But what about the content of the messages and the exhibition? One of the take-home messages is shown right hand.

My new wrist watch
I had to wonder a little bit. It presents a project that was done in 2000. This is quite old to call it "new".  In current times and most probably also before the year 2000 the overlay and intersection of topography, networks and land use is barely revolutionary but rather day-to-day work of geographers, cartographers, urban and regional planners and almost everybody working with maps and geographic information systems. There were also a number of other projects and take home messages, but I could not help being a little bit suspicious, whether the other parts of the exhibition are equally "new".
Luckily there were more things to take home: DIY buttons with a set of motives loosely related to the topic of the exhibition, such as a clock for alternative use of time or cutlery for alternative food production chains. So I made my very personal wrist watch. It is simple in design and shows always 5 past 2 pm, the perfect time to enjoy the results of the first half of the day and relax with a cup of coffee.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

What are these lines about?

Christmas card of the geochemical department of the Geological Survey of Finland in 1978
I got my hands on a Christmas card from 1978. Somehow it doesn't look very much like a Christmas card. It took me some time to figure out that it is much more than a simple postcard:
  • it is a map
  • it is an advertisement product
  • it is drawn with a pen plotter

A map
Honestly, it has very little in common with a classic road map or google maps or what ever comes to your mind first, when you imagine a map. There is no topography, there are no contour lines, there are no landmarks that could be recognized. Only the coordinates give a small hint. And if you are able to read Finnish, you can see on the right side that it is map sheet no. 274301. It maps the geochemical concentration of nickel at a set of measurement points that follow lines from south-west to north-east. Not more and not less. No interpolation, no information about the nickel between the points of measurement.
So much I could figure out: It is in the North of Finland. Additionally, I found a map of the bedrock in this area, that shows a stretch of  of perioditic komatite from south-east to west. The points with high nickel concentrations resemble quite well the area of perioditic komatite (a rock of volcanic origin).
But even with all this additional information, isn't that map rather  puzzling than revealing? What kind of person can appreciate such a map?

An advertisement product
The sender of this Christmas card must have been convinced that it attracts the receiver's attention . According to my information the card shows a (at that time) innovative way of handling spatial information and drawing maps. It is a computer-made map. As such it illustrates an important shift in map-making. For a long time maps were drawn by hand. The map was storage and illustration of spatial knowledge likewise.  Now the information is stored in databases on computers. The computer drawn-map extracts and presents selected information. The information can be interpolated, transformed, augmented before it is illustrated on a map (However, this does in no way affect the point that you can  lie with maps). It is comparable to the change from writing with a mechanical typewriter to writing and storing texts on a computer.
So the receiver was expected to see the potential that lies in data handling by computers, which allows a quick and inexpensive way of redrawing and reshaping the visual output.

Drawn with a pen plotter
This map/Christmas card is actually drawn by a pen plotter and not printed. This is maybe not more than a small additional episode, but it puts the Christmas card even more into a 70s context and makes it a little bit more puzzling for us in 2012.
While a printer puts coloured dots in a certain distance to each other on the white paper a pen plotter draws lines from one point to another similar to hand writing. Since modern printers have mostly replaced  pen plotters, they are a past episode of IT development.

When the whole world is scanned and mapped with ever increasing precision and people see a 
totalizing enviro-veillance network superimposed on the surface of the earth”, this pioneering and forward-looking map conveys a spirit of past times that is hardly perceptible any more. Interestingly the mapped area doesn't seem to be explored any further up to now: there are no real roads, no mines, hardly any building. Even the satellite picture of Google maps is rather blurry.

Thursday, 26 January 2012


Ever wanted to walk on the wall like a fly? Ever imagined yourself spectacularly escaping from a dangerous (but romantic) situation by hanging with one hand on the edge of a balcony?

This is exactly what you can do if you visit Leandro Ehrlich’s installations. A recurring theme in the Argentinian artist’s work is to have people experience spaces from a different perspective, as if defying the laws of physics.
This time he constructed whole facades lying on the ground and put huge, nearly vertical mirrors next to it. The illusion and the fun is assured. I found a beautiful and a short but hilarious video of the installation.

The installation brings to my mind the wonderful pictures of Jan von Holleben.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

2012 and the best city in the world

It is raining, windy and 2 °C. Fast cars and puddles are a reliable combination to get you wet, when you wait at the traffic lights that never get green. The sun rises officially 9.21 and disappears a little half past 3 in the after noon, but in fact it's just gray and dim all day long. When I leave the shop, the person in walking front of me slaps the door on my nose. When I'm in the bus, I can be sure to catch a cold from one of the sneezing and sniffing creatures around me. It seems there are a thousand places better to be than here in Helsinki.

But Monocle selected Helsinki as the most liveable city of 2011! How is that possible? According to Mercer Vienna has the highest quality of living in November 2011. The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) says in July 2011 Melbourne is the most liveable city. Should I be rather in Vienna or Melbourne?

Both, EIU and Mercer offer their ranking for the calculation of hardship allowances. This means that internationally acting companies use the ranking to calculate, how much more they offer their employees, when they work abroad. Working in Vienna or Melbourne might have a high quality of living, but the hardship allowance is probably rather small. Quite the opposite applies to Harare (Zimbabwe) or Baghdad (Iraq) at the bottom of EIU's and Mercer's rankings. For this purpose the rankings should be based on facts and objective criteria. They can not take into account, whether I like my neighbor or dislike Austrian food. Indeed, Mercer claims that its “criteria for Quality of Living are objective, neutral and unbiased”.

Well, Monocle's index is based on the editors' opinion (amongst other factors). So it is a rather subjective rating. Also my opinion about living in Helsinki is sometimes more positive than at this specific moment.

But how come, that the supposedly objective rankings don't match? In the EIU ranking Vienna holds the second place, but Melbourne is only 18th in Mercer's ranking. Despite the objectivity of many indicators, a ranking has to include necessarily a number of normative and subjective factors. Mercer rates 221 cities with 39 factors in 10 categories, EIU has 140 cities with 31 factors and 5 categories. Do I consider private and public healthcare as two separate factors or is it sufficient to consider hospital services in general? How does the number of natural disasters affect the hardship of a place? Do I consider culture and environment more important than healthcare?

An observation camera can make me feel secure in one city, while I feel restricted in my freedom in another city. One and the same objective fact can lead to a very different judgment. So should I leave all objectivity for a very personal and subjective view? And I wouldn't rely on the judgments of Monocle's editors either. Some time ago I stumbled upon the web page of the “fairest city in the world*. The evaluation system for the fairest city gives me the chance to find my own perception of cities, facts and their importance (in 50 categories). It helps to strip down the view on a city into observations, what these mean for the city and how they affect me personally.

Contrary to my first thoughts, it is not an easy task. It challenges your prejudices and sheds light on aspects of your city that you never thought of before. After one city and 50 categories I felt certainly exhausted, but I gained also new understanding, why subjectivity is inevitable.

* I recommend using the German version offairest city in the world, if possible. The English translations seem to me sometimes so crude that I hardly got an idea what it should mean.