What do you picture when you think of architecture in Helsinki? (And no, I don’t mean the indie pop band, although they’re great!) Just as the band has some underrated songs that aren’t as popular as their hit singles, so does Helsinki have some underrated architecture. If you’re ready to step away from Uspenski Cathedral and the Old Market Hall, here are some buildings that might just make their way into your Instagram photos!
Sometimes when cities expand, the rapid growth is a two-edged sword. On one hand, thriving industries and healthy populations of residents are great. But when many new buildings are made at a quick pace, the end results tend to favour function over form. What you’re left with is a concrete jungle of grey boxes, devoid of colour and life.
This is where street art can play a huge part in bettering a city. When cities allow – or better yet, commission – artists to paint murals on their grey concrete boxes, so much character is added. Art makes both private and public spaces so much more inviting. It can totally change the vibe of a neighbourhood for the better. Below are two cases of street art doing just that in the Helsinki area.
Most of us sort our household rubbish and put paper, plastic, and glass in their appropriate bins. That kind of recycling is great, and we should definitely keep doing it (or start, if you haven’t yet!). But this is recycling on a whole different level. Helsinki knows how to recycle whole buildings! Well, technically “repurpose” would be a better word. There are several old buildings and industrial areas in Helsinki which have been repurposed to create centres of culture. We can transform any kind of space, from the sterile hallways of a hospital to the gritty machinery of an electrical plant. And theatres, art galleries and working spaces rise from the ashes like cultural phoenixes.
I can’t completely explain why I’m so attracted to these areas. Maybe it’s the concept of creating something new and flourishing out of a cold and abandoned space. Maybe it’s the intriguing juxtaposition of factory buildings and collections of fine art. But I really do love these locations. They’ve got an indescribable but infectious vibe. They may not look like much at first glance, but once you’ve spent some time exploring them, these places will draw you in.
I love fine art. I studied it for years, starting in high school. I’ve spent countless hours of my life covered in charcoal and paint, trying to remember the major “-isms” of the past few centuries. That being said, no one can deny that fine art is very well represented in the gallery scene already. The majority of art on display, from huge prestigious museums to indie galleries, is fine art. This is no different in Helsinki. For that reason, I’d like to shine a light on some galleries which showcase art not considered “fine”.
A working definition of “fine art” is necessary here. It’s a pretty fuzzy definition, so bear with me! The traditional definition of fine art is art which is made simply for the sake of having something beautiful. That is, art which does not serve a practical purpose. “Fine art” can be used in a contemporary sense as a foil to “commercial art”, or art which is made to sell something. This definition basically takes the traditional definition and expands on it in a specific way.
There is obviously a lot of overlap between fine art and commercial art, but things like graphic design and illustration are usually considered commercial instead of fine. Some curators of fine art might be – well, let’s be frank – a bit pretentious. So, unfortunately, they might exclude this kind of art from gallery exhibitions. But I’ve taken a good look through Helsinki’s art scene and gathered a few places where you can see this kind of art. It’s SO worth seeing!
I said I would talk about street art again, and I’m keeping that promise! This is not the last time either.
This “mural hopping” trek started in Sörnäinen, and took me through Vallila to Arabianranta. Northeastern Helsinki is filled with pockets of hipster heaven, with art students, vintage stores, and graffiti everywhere. My own first year of graduate school was spent at Aalto University’s Arabia campus! This campus has now (sadly) been mostly abandoned and classes moved to Otaniemi, Espoo, but the art in the neighbourhood remains.
Here are five large-scale murals worth checking out in this corner of town. All are directly on tram and bus lines, so they’re easily accessible. Northeastern Helsinki is like a huge free art museum!
If there’s one type of place I like to frequent, it’s cafes. I’m an extremely active purveyor of everything related to coffee- and tea culture, and there are few things that make me happier than finding a great new cafe in Helsinki. In an effort to go a bit further than just listing my three favourite cafes in Helsinki, I thought I’d focus on a specific type of establishment: a concept cafe.
A concept cafe, at least for the purposes of this post, is one that goes a step further than just serving coffee, tea, baked goods and sandwiches. It might combine the cafe with some other kind of business, or maybe just immerse every aspect of the cafe with some sort of theme or style. Below are three places in Helsinki which fit this bill, and are definitely worth the visit if you’re looking for a memorable coffee time experience.
Helsinki has its share of traditional graffiti, both legal and decidedly less so. There are grand masterpieces covering entire walls of buildings, commissioned by the city or neighbourhood to brighten up a boring stretch of grey cement. There are also tags and crude sketches on whatever surface was accessible, out of sight of law enforcement. I pay constant attention to street art out of curiosity and have come across some awesome finds this way. I will undoubtedly talk about street art more than once on this blog, starting with these discoveries: two stretches of road in Helsinki’s central neighbourhoods with a bunch of painted electrical network boxes.
I recently spent a few days in Stockholm, and while riding their metro I recalled reading that their metro system has been called the world’s longest art gallery. It’s an apt description since artwork fills so many of the stations that make up the 110km long system. I then thought about Helsinki’s own tiny metro system back home and tried to remember what kind of art and design it contained. Helsinki’s metro boasts the record of being the northernmost one in the world, but it certainly isn’t large. Only just now, in the autumn of 2017, has the system even expanded outside the borders of Helsinki proper with the (very late, but very appreciated) LänsiMetro.
With eight shiny new stations and five more planned for the future, it’s the perfect time to review the art in Helsinki’s metro system. Designers have, of course, designed the new stations with contemporary aesthetics in mind. But some of the older stations have been housing art installations for years. In fact, two of the stations I will talk about in this post are from the original set. That being said, I do applaud the LänsiMetro for valuing art and design enough to include it in their plans from the beginning.
I decided to focus only on artworks that permanently reside in Helsinki’s metro stations for the sake of this post. Even some of the comparatively bare stations in the system house art sometimes, for projects such as the current “Ole hyvä Helsinki“.