Friday, October 17, 2014

The three faces of Helsinki.

No, Helsinki is not a post-apocalyptic city as some of my blog posts might suggest. 

For me, the city has three very different faces : the first one is the one described in the guide books. Beautiful, ultra clean, homogenous, rich, filled with history, lively and so on. You will find there fancy dining, design shops, historical buildings and international atmosphere. People dress up before going there.

The second one is where most people live, residential districts that have been carefully designed for a functional living. Often with very little inspiration. It is clean, the shops systematically to a national-wide chain, the local restaurant usually not attractive, there are a lot of green space. The style and architecture of these neighbourhoods are characteristic of the time of building and thus give a ready-made atmosphere. The main attraction is a local shopping mall, convenient for the harsh winter time. They are designed to offer standardize services that can keep you busy all day long making sure you spend money on the way. Everything belongs to national or international chains and very few shops are unique. Welcome to an uninspiring environment full of security guards. This kind of neighbourhood is actually what many people like, noiseless, convenient and safe. Urban planners seem to appreciate them, the shopping mall concept means that there is very little in the street for the police to deal with. Less cost.

The third one is my favourite. Non-functional, kind of abandoned places. Old industrial districts that wait for their new life. Where some creative happening seems to happen easily. Places undergoing metamorphosis, full of their past, pondering about the future. Graffiti artists might snake in, urban gardener might set there a few boxes, beginning designers or artists might have a chance to get some room there. And relax, there you are not constantly filmed by surveillance camera.

The winter is coming back, the temperature close to freezing and the light extremely vivid in the long lasting sunset. I wandered around Hernesaari in south Helsinki because the area is undergoing deep changes. A third of it is occupied by the icebreaker shipyard of Aker Artic (if somebody would take me for a tour there...), another third is occupied by unused sailboats and yachts and the last third is becoming fancy: park, café, sauna-spa complex. Welcome for a little tour.

 Disturbing, istn't it?

Fancy café, the wood walls are actually burned on the surface.