Saturday, September 20, 2008

Manly Men

Kuusamo Airport, with taxidermy

Had another nice visit with my friend Vesa, beginning with our arrival to the Kuusamo airport, which has a stuffed reindeer in the middle of the baggage claim area. We always have interesting talks, and this time was no exception. Got somewhat deeply into the questions of art (including for our discussions, music and architecture), what makes it good, where the  line between high design and vernacular acceptance lies, how to make high art more accessible, dealing with the elitism of high design, and the apparent erosion of quality related to marketing and selling of the arts. 

Some interesting ideas that came out of these discussions: maybe there is a potential to develop more ideas related to the connection of art and marketing. Perhaps some art projects that blur the line between marketing and art. Like the yes men, etc. Also, a variety of thoughts about the experiential nature of art, perhaps projects could be developed that are devoted to orchestrating experiences for participants. Additionally, gets me thinking about whether to place my efforts in this grass roots community design approach, or to spend time on the marketing side of things, promoting good architecture, making it accessible, etc. Well my main inclination has been towards the former, but it does have my mind going.

Besides these discussions, we had a nice time listening to music, going to Ruka, and eating Jettimunkis! Big round cardamom spiced doughnuts. Mmmm. Also picked berries, made pie, went on some good long hikes, had sauna, cooked good food, lived it up! Also went to a concert in Helsinki called Deathfeast which was lots of fun. Everyone was very loveable, in black t-shirts and friendly moshing.

beard and laplands meadow

Went around and saw some great Aalto buildings and also wandered through the connected buildings and underground of Helsinki – such nice and interesting public spaces there. Connected courtyards and covered walkways. Aalto’s work is very nice to see in person. Quite basic in some way – like not overly articulated or fussy. He seems to be comfortable with the existence of mistakes and idiosyncrasies.  Localized variation and expressed connections, without being as complex in articulation, like you might find in the work of Scarpa for example. Went to see his town hall at Saynastalo, which was so very nice. Such a great public building for a small island town. Somehow the brick and scale fits just perfectly in the tall pines. 

Academic Bookshop, Helsinki, Aalto

Aalto's house

Saynatsalo Town Hall

Saynatsalo Town Hall

Otherwise, I’ve been realizing how moved I am by the older buildings around Europe. They have a kind of gravity and a certain display of rigorous care. These days it seems we don’t make much that feels so well grounded, like it’s really a part of the city, part of the geography of the city. Hope I can get some of that gravity into my own work. Stockholm and Helsinki have both been inspirational in this way. And Uppsala still blows me away.

Helsinki, Academic Book Shop in Middle

Helsinki Main Terminal

coffee at the Swedish National Theater in Helsinki

Wooden Boats

Meridiana Main House

It was a lovely time with Thorsten and Kora at Meridiana. They have many interesting ideas forming, and it seemed like the timing was very good for my involvement and help. They’re doing a fair amount to generate a sustainable settlement with their guest house and personal home, and are working hard to establish fertile grounds for ecological settlement on Kumlinge, Åland.

We had many nice meals together, and I was able to help construct a storage closet with the additions of some places for shelves/spice racks. Felt good to be engaged in physical work and construction. Went around the island by bicycle and foot and even had the chance to go out sailing in their smaller wooden boat.

It was also a lot of fun to help with design ideas for their winter garden. Fortuitous to find some tangible design connections to boat building and ecology. They were great to work through ideas with, and I think we arrived at a solution that made use of lots of good thinking from all of us. Also was very interesting to meet with their neighbors and develop some broader coordination about the overall vision for the area. We developed some very interesting ideas and toured around the immediate vicinity, looking at places with good potential for future ecological houses. Also arrived at the idea that it would be a good to start with some smaller bungalows that could be used by people who are considering moving there or need a place to live while they build their own.

Sailing with Thorsten and Kora

Visioning and Design Session with neighbors

This has led me to think about many ideas, including the possibility of developing various types of design/build courses to create these bungalows, and perhaps other projects in the eco-village. Also has gotten me thinking about ideal settings for community. The strengths of Meridiana relate to the connection to nature and the island feeling, as well as small scale agricultural potential and interesting local community. Their challenge will be to find people who are interested in living away from the city in a more self-sustained manner. I think they can manage, and it gets me thinking about how you generate interest in communal settlement in general. It suggests a rather large step aside from the normal living situation. I think efforts need to be made to associate community arrangements with more “normal” living situations. This may suggest working disassociate it from the perception of counter culture, or rebellion, as in the communal movements of the 70s. This is of course in the interest of spreading community options more broadly. In the case of Meridiana, I think they will do well to make use of their interest in nature and holistic medicine to develop interest. Although I also think tapping into the local interests in maritime tradition and perhaps art and natural retreat could also go a long way.

Uppsala Return


It was just right, having a bit of rest after the on-going community experiences. Visiting with some old friends, Petra and Carlos and meeting Nora was a nice relief – to be able to talk with someone I know and who has some familiarity with where I come from and what my frame of mind might be. Had many great talks with Petra about life and the future and the past. It is a kind of on-going aspect of this trip for me, that my personal interest is blending into these ideas of professional development. Makes some aspects a bit blurry, but on the other hand seems quite alright that the things I care about are woven through the things I do at home and the things I do with my expertise.

Had a nice time visiting old haunts, and walking the streets of Uppsala. Such a pretty little city. Went to some old cafes and institutions. Took a visit to the new concert house by Henning Larsen. Got to hear Carlos play with one of his bands. Also had a nice time talking to Petra’s friends, and trying out orienteering for the first time – thanks to Petra for the lesson. And also to the smiley face signs that let people on the easiest course know if they’re going the right way. It was me and several little kids. I almost won. Maybe with a bit more practice I can beat the little kids too!

Uppsala Konserthus

Uppsala Buildings, Cathedral Beyond

Petra and Carlos took me to a couple of interesting communities including Hoga in Uppsala and Jarna, a Steiner based collection of businesses with some associated housing. Steiner seems to be compatible with various communal ideas – although I’m concerned that the ideology may be overly-insular. But still have to read for myself what he had in mind.

Petra in front of cool blue building at Jarna

Purification waterfall for waste processing at Jarna


Some other interesting ideas that came up during discussions with various people in Uppsala and Stockholm. Heard about one housing project where they had a simple common lease structure for a multi unit building, but had created a sort of skills inventory list of the various residents, so that people could have a kind of in-house trade and barter system going. Sweden seems to be full of social ideas for housing – various associations, and the common acceptance of more sharing of resources. However the intentional aspect seems to be rather lacking – or I heard the opinion several times that people were more inclined to keep to themselves and weren’t necessarily inclined to contribute to community needs beyond the specialization standard to today’s life. Still there are plenty of people interested. Made an additional connection to a community on Gotland that I’m going to try to visit if I can coordinate the timing. 

Managed to catch up on posting to my blog and some various other arrangements that had been on hold. Excited to head on to Meridiana – seems like they have an interesting task to form a community in a place so distant from large cities, and cultural centers.