World Design Capital Helsinki

Visiting Helsinki in December 2012, I was keen to check out the final events during its status as World Design Capital 2012 – a year-long event which celebrates cities using design as a tool to reinvent themselves and improve social, cultural and economic life. 

Creative highlights included Kellohalli, an industrial abattoir unit turned restaurant and forum for food chat; which offers a 4 week course for people considering setting up a restaurant. In their final week, participants actually run their restaurants for real. An incredibly simple, yet really powerful way of folks testing their dreams quickly and inexpensively – very tasty too.

Helsinki was European City of Culture back in 2000 and so naturally it feels like culture is pretty well engrained across the city. From the large public art galleries selling local bands’ CDs; the amazing Kaapelli (or Cable Factory) packed full of cultural organisations, galleries, artists and creative businesses; to University cafes which encourage the general public to come chat topical issues with the students. It’s clear that creativity is central to enhancing everything about the city.

University cafe welcomes everyone in to chat.

University cafe welcomes everyone in to chat.

The recently built, sculptural but beautifully functional, Kamppi Chapel of Silence has been loving created in curved fir wood and is a space for finding peace rather than religion, amidst the hectic centre of the city. It’s a pretty immense space to sit and reflect.


Kamppi Chapel of Silence

There are so many small underground activities happening city-wide. Free downloadable maps created by individuals and art collectives guide you around the city depending on your interests – the design district, the underground art scene, the font walk of cool typefaces, and the secret light gardens of Helsinki map – taking you around hidden areas lit up by artist light installations.


Secret light gardens of Helsinki walk – artist light installations

These low-tech innovations were some of my favourites – using existing minimal resources and assets and a lot of human capital, people offer immense experiences, create conversation and inspire others to do more – really improving the culture of their place.

Helsinki has been a useful place to gain a new perspective on how both the small and big fish can work together to benefit the whole collective cultural pool and broader ecology. All it takes is a group of creative passionate people to kick-start it.

The Font Walk – a great way to navigate people around the city in new ways

Collecting audience and customer data – the fun and sticky way!
Collecting audience and customer data – the fun and sticky way!

Design Forum Finland
Design Forum Finland