Helsinki Design Week 2015


28 September 2015

"Time Machine: a device in which people or objects can be transported into the past or the future."

Time Machine is also the theme of this year’s Helsinki Design Week. Time Machine was set as a theme to encourage the exploration of design as a means to shape the future – exploring new products and materials, as well as investigating the use of design in urban development. And with such an emphasis on notions of the future, is it any wonder that its standout projects were those created by students?

In figures, Helsinki is small. Of the 5.4m people living in Finland, just over 600,000 reside in the capital. Yet Helsinki is gaining recognition as a hub for design. In 2012 the city was awarded the title of World Design Capital, and in early 2014 it was announced that it would join New York, Venice, Bilbao and Abu Dhabi as a city adorned with a Guggenheim museum. The first stage of the subsequent Guggenheim design competition received an unprecedented 1,715 submissions. Helsinki Design Week (HDW) was founded in 2005 by Kari Korkman with the aim of establishing the Finnish capital as an environment for creative industry. With more than 200 exhibitions and events taking place across the city this year, the design week is now one of the largest in the Nordic countries.

L3 Design Dock is a new destination for HDW 2015 and houses 40 exhibitors handpicked by Korkman. It represents a mixture of established design brands such as Herman Miller and Carl Hansen, and work created by student collectives. A listed former warehouse designed by Finnish architect Lars Sonck (1870-1956), the building in perched on the water’s edge in the rapidly developing district of Jätkäsaari. Previous to HDW 2015, the building had only been used sporadically for small-scale events until being transformed by interior architect Joanna Laajisto. The result is spartan: the exposed concrete interior spreads across two floors, while gaps in the facade allow sunlight to flood the space and provide views to the city’s industrial port. Two temporary, rickety scaffold staircases grant an air of authenticity.

Across the design week, it was student projects that were most encouraging. In an outbuilding to L3, Salla Luhtasela, Reeta Ek and Wesley Walters, all students of Helsinki’s Aalto University, presented Katettu. Each student specialises in a different discipline – textiles and print, ceramics, and woodwork – and the exhibition comprises a small selection of pieces that combine each discipline with a common interest in food culture and small-batch production. The results are intricate tableware, handcrafted wooden trays and ceramic teapots that they designed for Ask, an experimental restaurant nearby. “So far everything is self-produced, which is nice because you can really prototype until you get to the point that you are happy with it,” says Walters.

A minimalist bench made from 2m strips of laminated oak designed by Luhtasela and Walters takes HDW’s time machine theme more explicitly. The bench’s form is inspired by tubular metal handrails of hospital beds from the 1930s, yet the production process needed to replicate the form in an uncharacteristic material nods to the contemporary. “It is actually quite difficult to do in wood,” says Walters. “This is probably the sixth or seventh iteration, just because we have the ability to do the production. The design is actually one of our first sketches, just a basic line drawing. It started to get more and more complicated so we pared it back to just those two lines.”

Also in L3 is Sybaris, an exhibition comprising the work of 12 students also from Aalto University that explores concepts of sensuality, pleasure and luxury in the form of 12 experimental designs. The exhibition is inspired by the ancient Greek city of Sybaris, famed for its inhabitants’ pursuit of hedonistic opulence. Several students chose to depict luxury through traditional means: designs that require intricate, time-consuming manufacturing processes with obvious aesthetic appeal. Erin Turkoglu’s handblown glass Planetary Bowls, for example, display opaque pastel colours that are melted together during the glass-blowing process, resulting in fragile and luxuriant glass bowls. By contrast, Oxymoron, a wooden bench featuring horizontal pointed edges by Monica Romagnoli, investigates the contradictory relationship between pleasure and pain.

Elsewhere in the main warehouse space, Japan Design Revisited, an exhibition backed by car manufacturer Lexus, showcases a selection of products that encompass Japanese aesthetics and handicraft traditions. Curated by Stockholm-based Japanese curator Ikko Yokoyama, the small selection includes pieces by fashion designer Issey Miyake and RCA-trained product designer Jun Murakoshi. The standout, however, was an extensive collection by Takt Project, a Tokyo-based design studio founded in 2013 by former Nendo designers Atsushi Honda, Yoshitaka Ito, Satoshi Yoshiizumi, and Takeshi Miyazaki. 3-Pring Project demonstrates, on existing Muji wares, the ability to change the function of a product by adding 3D-printed parts: suspended mounts for clocks, for instance, or clips to link storage units together in chains.

Like most design week models, HDW sprawls across the city but operates out of two main hubs: L3 Design Dock and Habitare. Located in the city’s business district, Habitare is a furniture, interior and design fair hosted within a uniform convention centre. Whereas much of Habitare is dedicated to commercial, industrial design brands such as Vitra, Artek, Georg Jensen and Marimekko, select areas of Habitare house more experimental projects.

One such exhibit is Trash Cuisine, curated by Isa Kukkapuro-Enbom and designer Henrik Enbom. Trash Cuisine, an ongoing project that also featured at Habitare in previous years, experiments with recycled materials to create innovative and environmentally-conscious kitchen and tableware designs. Ada Chan’s project Edible Tableware makes use of leftover, natural foodstuffs to create biodegradable, naturally coloured tableware.

Elsewhere, in a space within Habitare dedicated to student work, Truth is an exhibition of contemporary glass and ceramic design by a mixture of 12 established Finnish artists and students, each presenting work that embodies their interpretation of the concept of truth. “We were supposed to think ‘what is the truth?’ which was challenging,” says Saija Halko, one of the featured student designers. “Everyone has their own interpretation of what is the truth.” Whereas Halko’s Kapseli collection comprises two-piece, stained porcelain vases inspired by the delicate forms of nature, Luonto by established ceramicist Piia Hautamäki is a heavy contrast. Hautamäki exposes truth within the making process by allowing her earthenware to naturally warp.

Eleven years since HDW was established, the event has built a reputation that draws a roster of global designers and brands to its exhibition spaces. Yet it is the parity with which it treats emerging and established practitioners that renders this year’s HDW a success. As the design week spotlights the future, it is fitting that the work of students delivers so much promise.