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 mentioned Suvilahti in my last post when talking about Make Your Mark Gallery. This street art gallery is located in one of the old electrical plant’s nine buildings. Suvilahti is the perfect place for such a gallery since it is brimming with graffiti itself, including a metres-long wall that is completely covered. There are numerous cultural businesses in Suvilahti, from galleries to performance spaces to studios. There is even a beer brewery!
Another mainstay in Suvilahti is Finnish modern circus. Cirko, the Center For New Circus, has its premises in Suvilahti’s old machine shop. Cirko is a working and performance space for modern circus professionals in Helsinki. There is also Circus Helsinki, a circus school for people of all ages. In short, if you want to see Finland’s answer to Cirque de Soleil (or want to become a performer yourself!), head over to Suvilahti.
Address: Lapinlahdenpolku 8, Helsinki
Lapinlahden Lähde is a centre for culture and well-being which has taken over an old hospital’s grounds. There is a “proper” art gallery, as well as a hallway which basically functions as another gallery. A cosy cafe fills the space which was likely the hospital’s cafe to begin with. You can still sense via the architecture that this was a medical facility in the past, but the homey furniture, chalkboard menu and tiny “library” totally remove the sterility of the place. The building now feels much warmer and very welcoming.
There are two small boutiques on the premises where you can buy handmade art and crafts items from local artisans. There is a restaurant, Loop, which creates fresh vegetarian food from ingredients that would otherwise have been thrown away by grocers. I took these photos in the winter, but during the rest of the year, Lapinlahden Lähde is surrounded by a wonderful green garden complete with apple trees. There is a public sauna on the grounds too, because this is Finland!
Address: Tallberginkatu 1 C 15, Helsinki
The name “Kaapelitehdas” literally translates to “Cable Factory”, which is exactly what this space used to be. As the biggest centre of culture in Helsinki, Kaapelitehdas houses studios for performing and visual artists, museums, galleries and the dance/theatre/circus company Hurjaruuth. The space also houses a few museums, including the Finnish Museum of Photography. I’ve even attended a sci-fi convention (Finncon) at Kaapelitehdas!
The highlight of my latest visit was TEOS 2018, which showcased the works of Finnish sculptors and graphic artists. There were works from all across the board. Small statues to site-specific installations, and realistic pencil drawings to abstract collage. I loved the life-size sculptures of dogs (I think!), made of metal and glass and looking very much like they wanted to play with passersby.
Address: Työpajankatu 2, Helsinki
The name of this place is “slaughterhouse”, which is what it used to be back in the day. But you wouldn’t know it today! If you eat meat, you can get a highly regarded and delicious burger at the small Roslund lunch restaurant. If you don’t eat meat but are still hungry, check out the vegetarian options at Ho’s Food. Ho’s Food is a casual Chinese restaurant that serves hot pot meals and has a good wine list. For dessert, check out the new ice cream shop Jädelino!
Other residents of Teurastamo include a small bookshop that hosts events and classes, The Helsinki Coffee Roastery and the Helsinki Distillery. The roastery’s beans the distillery’s spirits are both award winners! The side of the Teurastamo space facing Sörnäistenkatu is covered in colourful graffiti, and more graffiti can be found throughout the area. The industrial red brick buildings of Teurastamo are definitely a case of “don’t judge a book by its cover”.
There’s just something so special about seeing new life breathed into tired old things and spaces. I love the concept on any scale, from DIY furniture and clothing to these surprising centres of culture. Constructing shiny new buildings for museums, performance spaces, restaurants, etc. is great, but every once in a while it’s also great to reinvent a space that you might have thought was lost.