HELSINKI – Designmuseo Part 1
Just up the street from our Airbnb was the Design Museum of Helsinki which has been in operation since 1873, indicating how important industrial and graphic design has always been to the Fins. We were fortunate that our hostess made her museum cards available to us which let us pop in whenever we wanted. One morning I wandered by myself toward the museum, approaching through a pretty park featuring a statue of historian and author Zachris Topelius telling one of his fairytales to a group of children gathered around him.
Stepping out into the square fronting the museum,
the first thing I noticed was the temporary museum exhibition called the Tea Pavilion, a collaboration between Finnish and British design students.
* The Johanneksenkirkko or St. John’s Church with its twin spires is the largest stone-built church in Finland. It seats 2600 and has excellent acoustic properties, so it’s often used for concerts. I came across a 1908 photo of the church online which didn’t actually show much of St. John’s, rather our street, Korkeavuoren, and the Evangelical Free Church with three of its distinctive windows opened wide to catch a breeze. A little corner of the Ruoko building and the Neodomus are also easy to identify. I’m mesmerized by the swinging skirts of the women in the street and the fact that there was road construction in exactly the same spot when I was walking along that sidewalk a few weeks ago.
But let’s return to the museum. With one last look back at the tea pavilion, which will have been dismantled by the time you read this,
we approach the museum entrance.
I waited oh-so-patiently for this young woman to move on, but she was oblivious to her surroundings. Over her right shoulder, one can see an inscription in Swedish in the stone base reading “Secondary school for boys and girls”, followed by “founded in 1883 by K.T. Broberg” on the other side of the doors. Inside the museum’s Jugendstilish entry followed a more detailed explanation.
Aside from the remarkable forward-thinking Pastor Broberg, there is something else interesting in the statement above. It opens with the words “This Neo-Renaissance building, …”. Renaissance Revival style? The museum? Have another look:
Although the museum building is often categorized as Gothic Revival and in other publications as Renaissance Revival, it and its neighbors of the same epoche we have met two posts ago, the Fire Station and the Evangelical Free Church, as well as St. John’s Church and many more well-known structures throughout Finland, are more an expression of their time and place than simple adherents of a particular building style. Looking at modern Finnish history, it becomes apparent that the country that was for so long dominated by Swedish, Russian, and Germanic influences, did not mature into its own Finnish identity until the turn of the century, just before it declared its independence in 1917. To paraphrase the experts, an eclectic mixture of imported Neo-Classical, Neo-Romanesque, Neo-Gothic, and Neo-Renaissance architecture, not to forget Neo-Russian and Byzantine Revival architecture continued through the beginning of the 20th century in which architects used not only different styles for different projects but also a combination of style elements in the same work, which is, I believe, the case here with the largely Neo-Renaissance museum with gothic aspects. To finish the thought regarding the imprint of foreign cultures on Finnish architecture and come full circle, it was the Finnish Art Nouveau style which became most strongly associated with the modern movement of national independence. Not least through the Finnish Pavilion in the 1900 World Fair in Paris designed by Eliel Saarinen, Herman Gesellius, and Armas Lindgren.
This beautiful Jugendstil alcove was in the entry to the museum. I wonder if Prof. Gummerus may have been a relative of Kaarle Jaakko Gummerus 1840 – 1898 who, with his wife Gustava, founded a publishing house “for the benefit of all the villagers in Finland” at a time when books were not easily accessible to farmers. Their village libraries became tremendously popular across the country.
In the main hallway of the museum, we encounter period features like this tiled stove under a brick barrel ceiling finished in white plaster,
sitting peacefully right next to a contemporary Finnish design.
The museum ticket counter displayed an extensive collection of scissors confiscated from running school children… not!
Naturally, this being Finland, these scissors are actually the world-famous Fiskars’ scissors the development of which is fully explained in the museum’s permanent collection.
My morning visit was focused on the temporary exhibit called Critical Tide which was of special interest to me as a former protozoologist. The exhibit introduced a range of projects and experiments aimed to engage the public’s interest in ocean life and its global importance.
The Sea Chair by Studio SWINE – Super Wide Interdisciplinary New Explorers. The team, while living on a fishing vessel off the coast of New England, collected plastic waste and manufactured everyday items from the collected debris in an effort to trigger the public’s awareness of plastic pollution of the oceans.
And then there is hair, lots of it.
For any woman my age, a museum visit will inevitably be punctuated with quick stops at the loo – in the Designmuseo, the signage is crisp and adorable. We expect no less.
Gathering strength in Eero Aarnio’s Ball chair before visiting the next gallery in the design museum. See you shortly!