lifestyle urban planning

New York City Grand Central Centennial celebrates with arts

New York City Mass Transit has a program called MTA Arts for Transit and Urban Design, which commissions artists through a competitive selection process to create original, site-specific permanent artwork for stations. This spring, there was also auditioning for a role of a subway performer. Link and more info here

Grand Central Diary is a video created by London Squared Productions. It is currently part of the exhibition “On Time / Grand Central at 100” (curated and organized by MTA Arts for Transit and Urban Design). It is now on view through July 7 at the New York Transit Museum Gallery, which is located at the terminal. Grand Central Diary is a short film that shows the everyday routines at the station from a fun and quarky perspective of animated objects at the terminal and nearby.

design sustainability urban planning world design capital helsinki 2012

Kamppi Chapel of Silence in the World Design Capital 2012

Kamppi Chapel of Silence opened in May-June 2012 and immediately became a Helsinki World Design Capital architectural landmark. It has become a huge tourist attraction with thousands of visitors coming to see it on a weekly basis, and the architecture has gained international following. The Chapel is designed by the K2S Architects, and is built by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. It is a collaboration of the City of Helsinki and the Church. Kamppi Chapel of Silence is a unique concept in Finland, being a first of its kind.

The Chapel was nominated for the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture Mies van der Rohe Award. Nordic Architecture and Design Magazine FORM chose it as the building of the year within Nordic countries. The architectural shape brings in mind, for some, ideas of Noah’s ark, and for others it reminds them of egg or bowl shapes. What is extraordinary about it, is the element of cutting out the sounds of the city. When you enter the space you have come into contact with silence, and you are isolated from the urban mayhem. The Chapel entrance hall is designed for encountering people, there is a service desk for the staff to meet with the community and visitors. The Church offers prayer services and communion, but it does not offer the usual congregational services like weddings and funerals. Its main focus is to be open for people and to assist the surrounding areas. The professionals in the Chapel encounter and help visitors and even meet the youth hanging out in the shopping mall area. This sometimes means dealing with usual social problems of public spaces.

The building brings in natural light during the daytime. The rest of the lighting is created to keep this natural balance. The lighting is operated by sensors, which adapt to human movement. The Chapel interior is made of alder, with common alder planks cut to shape, the benches are made of ash tree, and the exterior is made of horizontal spruce strips, which are bent at different radiuses. The exterior wood is glazed with a special wax that utilizes nanotechnology, and its frame is prepared of massive glulam beams, which were cut to shape. The exterior consists of 30 kilometers long of the material. The World Design Capital was launching a theme for innovative wood architecture, as it is more ecologically sustainable in the times of the World’s ecological crisis.

The acoustics are fantastic for musical performance, however there is no room for an organ.  It would be ideal space for baroque ensembles to perform, for instance. The most important concept of the Chapel is to be a service desk for both the locals and travelers alike. The doors are open for anybody to enter either to stop by or spend some quiet time there. The Chapel is located in the middle of the Kamppi market square, which incorporates a big shopping mall and a metro station. The area has hotels and museums nearby so it invites tourists and international visitors. Overall, the square is an ideal location for the Chapel, since it is an intersection of the cultural and the leisurely, bringing in people from all parts of the city. The Chapel itself is a small gathering place holding the most 60 people.

The City of Helsinki implemented that the World Design Capital projects come up with ideas of service design. Part of the thinking of the design is that it is embedded in the everyday life of people, and it can be more than just objects, material things and products. Design can be experiences, and it can encourage communities to create, to meet and come together, to influence and serve others. When this idea is brought together with architecture it adds another layer of the human experience. Good architecture is there to serve communities, and create meeting points in the busy city-life. The Kamppi Chapel employs professionals from the City and from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland Helsinki parish, employing twelve people.  A pastor and a deacon, a youth social worker, two ushers, and the manager are employed by the Church. The city employs two social workers, two social instructors, and two cleaning professionals.


Pastor Nanna Helaakoski


December 12, 2012, was a special day for the Kamppi Chapel. 12.12.12. was commemorated there with several weddings in the Chapel. This is an unusual occasions, so I spoke to the Chapel’s pastor Nanna Helaakoski about it.

– The December 12, 2012 was made a theme day of weddings at the Chapel. We had 16 couples to celebrate their wedding ceremonies. For some of them it was more important to get a rare chance to be married in the Chapel, than to emphasize the 12.12.12 as a special wedding day.

Websites: K2S Architects Ltd.

WDC Helsinki 2012

(Update: Mice family living in the Kamppi Chapel moved to nature. Pastor Nanna Helaakoski assisted them. The following video was published on Jan 16, 2013 by Kotimaa24:n production’s Päivikki Koskinen and Katri Saarela, 2013.)

design lifestyle urban planning

A great Yellow city

There is only so much we can do with the urban panning? Move cafes to the rooftops, leave the city center only for taxis? Start using bikes in the city. What remains in the city that never sleeps aka *NYC* are the yellow cabs. As I have gotten used to them in everyday life, I thought to invent something that would describe my mindscape, or, rather, imagine together with the cabs. One rainy day I figured that the rain looked like yellow. The yellow rain landed on our coats, we hurried as usual, yet something was different. It was perhaps the awakening to the spring, the anticipation, or coming into this realization that the colors are there around us. The everyday is packed with shapes, colors, lived and animated livelihood, art, design. Anything.

I love one thing, *pink*. Now, when That color arrives in the city, occupying the busy business and residential avenue of New York, something Is in the Air. Last year this extravaganza color paraded a good amount of time on the street called the Park Avenue. Will Ryman’s Roses created from fiberglass and stainless steel, and thus having a naive and almost clumsy look in them, were just lovely vitamin for the city. Imagine pink and red roses in gigantic size, and then the bugs on top of them. Ryman’s roses were attractive, and most importantly, I found my favorite bug. I had a reason to walk the street over and over again. I had a reason to think that the city is beautiful even on a rainy day when windgusts are kissing my back, when my mind is somewhere far away thinking of the faraway places of the wildest unconquered nature. Here my gigantic bug was making my day happy, and making a boring and secured street plan look childish and funny, a little bit tilted even. It is surprising what art can make out of the convenience of the everyday as it mixes with more serious urban plans. Only a Spider by my favorite artist Louise Bourgeois would make me happier, if I met one on a street corner of course.

sustainability urban planning

Event about historic preservation at The Van Alen institute

Coming up is a super cool event about Historic preservation in New York. Preserving our ecosystems and heritage includes also streets and other public spaces, as well as historic buildings and architectural landmarks.

Tomorrow on January 17th, Euro Circle network is hosting a benefit for the “Neighborhood Preservation Center”. The Van Alen Institute’s 6th floor gallery is the event location, and the address is 30 West 22nd Street New York. One of the event hosts Elin Jusélius is pursuing her Masters at Pratt in Historic Preservation. She told me that the basic idea of this event is to introduce the historic preservation field to people who are interested in learning more about it.

EJ: Historic preservation (or heritage conservation as it is called outside of the US) is a changing field, it deals with both tangible and intangible heritage. It is closely linked to sustainability as it is always greener to keep existing buildings, than to build new ones. For instance, all buildings have ’embodied energy’, the energy spent on building it, on processing materials, and on transporting the materials to the site.

Historic preservation also deals with ‘a sense of place’ it examines what the contributing factors are that gives a neighborhood, a town, a city an identity. It evaluates the significance of a building which could be cultural, architectural, historical etc.

FI: New York’s Penn Station demolition in the 1960s was pretty horrible. I saw the Pennsylvania Station past and future exhibit in the Transit Museum Annex in Grand Central Terminal last summer.

EJ: Penn Station has inspired many to get involved in preservation, personally I am still shocked that anyone could think that it was a good idea to tear it down! Grand Central nearly had the same fate but preservationists won, this was a highly significant event, the court decision made preservation ‘legal’ in New York!

urban planning

The Egg provides environmental harmony

What is a role of architecture in democracy is a grand question to ponder. First critical question can be directed to the volume of buildings in our urban public spaces. The human scale, people and architecture relationship cannot be taken for granted. Architecture may also be a spoiled industry. The problem is that architecture is sometimes taken as harmless, not harming the environment. It is easier to point to the exploitation of environment by oil and gas industries.

Democracy plays also with massive volume. It wants to show off. Former governor of NY Nelson Rockefeller commissioned a plan to elaborate Albany as a state capitol. Imagine a relatively small town in Upstate New York that has an appearance of a state capitol hosting democratic ideals in architecture. Such is the story of the Empire State Plaza.

The story goes that Nelson Rockefeller drafted himself the basic designs for the Albany’s government campus. Architect Wallace Harrison revised the plan, which included mixed aesthetical styles in it. The aesthetics of Versailles, Indian capital Chandigarh’s urban designs by Le Corbusier (in 1950s), and Brazilian architecture were used as inspirations to create plaza of the democracy: for all the people of New York. Overall, the idea was that the urban massive scale would be visible also as a feature across the Albany skyline. What one can see are the mixed styles of modern architecture and some elements of the baroque style coming from the French palace. Contradictory idea, as this mixture might appeal to people who come to visit the city, yet the city itself is quite small to attract with such a volume. For what reason? To show off the democracy’s playground?

Behind this critical questioning is, in fact, a deeper question about the functioning of the plaza/place. How could the massive buildings be incorporated in the people’s everyday life? The role of public places, which the Empire State Plaza in Albany also is, is to be building democratic societies. Many architectural associations and sustainable development programs have been pondering how to use this type of urban spaces better.

When I was walking on the Albany campus, the buildings around me felt massive. For example, The Egg gives out an exterior, which is changing according to the viewpoint. It looks like a spaceship with a robotic structure from some angles, feeding more an imagination of ‘the off-limits’. The Egg feels too massive and claustrophobic to be inviting as a structure, yet it certainly is full of curiosity, which actually nourishes me with an imagination that the interior might hold happenings that are inventive, new and futuristic. The form gives me expectations.

Then again, The Egg is harmoniously nesting in its environment. It shows evidence of an amazing era in modernist architecture. Despite of its massive sculptural looks it appears actually as harmonizing entity. The plaza’s plentiful atmosphere with all the modernist sculptures looks more peaceful with the Egg.

The Empire State Plaza campus can be a place where you sit down and eat your power lunch, or mingle like a tourist. Yet it would be hard to imagine that public assemblies would take place in it. It is really not a place for Occupy Wall Street– type of events. In fact, Occupy Albany -protestors were arrested quite soon. The place attracts tourists and visitors, and people, who work in the area in administrative jobs. As hangouts for locals who walk by as part of their daily activity, the significance is of course evident. American society of civil engineers nominated the building with The New York Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement in 1979.

The construction of The Egg began in 1966 and it was completed in 1978. Like the plaza, it was meant for all the people of New York State. The Egg hosts a Performing arts center. A quick overview to the program shows it as quite conservative. One would expect the Egg to host innovative programs, workshops, performances and festivals. It houses the Lewis A. Swyer Theatre and the Kitty Carlisle Hart Theatre; the interior is also reflecting the exterior. The walls are curving upward; the theaters provide intimate settings (Swiss pear wood veneer provides both warmth and good acoustics).

Overall, The Egg is made durable. The stem goes deep down into the earth through six stories, and the structure is by a girdle that is made as a reinforced concrete beam. The beam helps to transmit the weight onto the supporting pedestal.

lifestyle sustainability

Bryant Park Yoga

The summer is full of colors which add dimension to the parks in the city. Yoga in Bryant park has invited attendees to sit, relax and stretch in a green area. This moment is quiet, waiting, before the rush…In case one wishes to escape the city, there is a ferry option going to the Governors Island, which attracts with its old time charm, and yet, it is becoming a center of all kinds of contemporary doings. It is possible to find the almost abandoned buildings, interiors and construction areas there, and even an old sanctuary/church. Things seem to be in-between state, so creative energy flows. The place is great for looking at water and the city from a little distance. The island has some green spots, and it is a perfect fit to do some modern mummy-like meditation or yoga.

There is also program for the ‘art hungry’. Contemporary Finnish photography found its space in Governors Island this summer (exhibition called Bodies, Borders, Crossings: Photography and Video Art From Finland, curated by Leena-Maija Rossi and Kari Soinio), and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council has been programming art there as well in their gallery space.

What adds dimension to physical exercising cultures these days is that, for example, yoga practices have taken in more performative elements. The influence of various ‘eastern’ bodily practices are coming to the ‘west’ together with the idea of world stage performances (of course there is Bollywood). In classical Indian dance, music and theater forms, the yoga is a foundation of the techniques used in the body. So when we actually look at the works, It is not only the performances that we see that influence us, but also the ways our modern hectic life keeps looking for new types of body techniques. Therefore, all trends that incorporate yoga-breathing and such into a daily/weekly/monthly-retreat routines is a healthy direction. With more centered body, the mind operates better.

I want to occupy this space in Governors Island and fly away. What is my survival kit in the city? Finding my innerscape, designing my yoga outfit, breathing through the fabric!

lifestyle urban planning

The Unisphere of Flushing Meadows Park, New York

The Unisphere of Flushing Meadows Park built for the 1964-1965 World’s Fair.

Signs of social activism around the world are coming forth through the social media. The old world representations for ‘peace’ and ‘mutual understanding’ are still visible in the landscape, and also preserved in the architecture, in monuments and even in parks. The Flushing Meadows Park in New York City’s Queens is an example of the park, which shares an illusion of the timeless representation for ‘mutual understanding’. The globe functions as a symbol for the world cultures, for the one-world, for the United Nations, and many more. In the Flushing Meadows, it stands as a symbol for the peoples’ park and shared time together.

design lifestyle urban planning

Our memories and futures

Curator Leevi Haapala in Standard-hotel

This is the day when we remember New York, the city with wounds, the city with radiant sparkle that lost so much of its future potential in one day, or did it start re-doing it? Dissonances are present in our memories, yet, we also recognize what our new futures might hold. Future is in people, in environment, in their harmonious co-existence. We can leave positive traces behind us, traces of the sun, traces of our bodies, movements, designs planting new hope. Let me share some of the silence and noise of the future potential. Give it away to the architecture that is there. Walk the High Line and look around you, sip a fruity cocktail in the luxurious Standard…When you stroll, find your own stone, find a wooden structure.

I was walking ‘up’ the new High Line extension paying attention to the new park designs. As I went along, I was gladly absorbing a different atmosphere, I left the modernist and massive Standard behind me (believe me, I think it is fantastic), and stepped into a merely willowy landscape, which I would not exactly take for granted in the heart of New York City. It has to be admitted that ‘willows’ are trendy, the Northern atmosphere created in the city will attract people, and it surely took me by force. I wanted to go back, as when walking the new extension I felt that I could leave some of the city mayhem behind me.

Notably, Steven Holl Architects have been joining in the city plans with ecological dimension (in Helsinki, for instance), so the High Line also reflects this approach. Green trends are global.