Helsinki Is Using Design Week to Relay ‘We Are Open’

·3 min read

LET’S MEET UP: As millions of cities, companies and corporations are still struggling to sort out how best and to what extent to get large groups together, the city of Helsinki has rolled out a potential template in Helsinki Design Week.

First established in 2005, Helsinki Design Week is the largest design festival in the Nordic countries, but the curious or potential copycats don’t have to fly to Finland to take part or glean ideas. This year’s edition will run Sept. 1 to 11 both online and in-person. Through an open call, organizers have decided on 100-plus events under the theme of “We Are Open.” For the first time in the event’s history, the main venue will be open to the public throughout the 10-day festival. On the top floors of what locals call the “Sugar Cube,” a sleek 1962 building designed by prized architect Alvar Aalto, visitors will be encouraged to brainstorm and exchange ideas, take guided tours, indulge at the pop-up restaurant Kuurna and listen in to talks about design and architecture.

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Giving new meaning to cultural ambassadorship — a principle that the design-minded Scandinavian country has a reputation for — there will be Design Diplomacy discussions in ambassadors’ residences. Ten embassies will take part in those talks that will each bring together a design professional from Finland with one from the embassy’s home country. Conversation topics will be chosen randomly from a deck of cards and speakers will not be briefed beforehand to prepare in advance in the interest of a more natural conversation.

HDW and the city of Helsinki will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the World Design Capital on Sept. 1 by honoring a designer or design team for contributing something positive to the city. Environmental design ideas will be highlighted in Life 1.5’s “Designs for a Cooler Planet” exhibition. With help from the Helsinki International Film Festival, a series of surprise screenings will take place around the city.

Eyeing the future, there will also be a “What If? Alternative Futures” exhibition at the Helsinki Design Museum that culls from the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra’s report that explores such topics as whether feelings could be measured and different species could communicate.

Helsinki city officials, designers and creatives may be onto something. While the preeminence of major cities is expected to be unaffected in a post-COVID-19 world, cities might increasingly become cultural and civic gathering places rather than shopping destinations or office hubs, according to the “Cities in a Post-COVID World” report. Three academics determined that more events will be held outdoors in city streets and plazas, as city centers transform into more pedestrian and bike-friendly places. The migration of affluent residents from cities to suburbs could give way to an influx of young artists and creatives, they wrote. But the cultural divide could become more pronounced as the disease and the financial fallout impacts the disadvantaged the most.

There will also be more expected gatherings like the popular three-day Design Market, where designers and other creatives will sell fashion, accessories and other items. Understanding the importance of cultivating children’s interest in all disciplines of design, HDW will feature a slew of events for them in the “Children’s Design Week.” The main event will give children and youth a voice to express what type of city center would feel open to them.

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