The Spaces, a digital platform exploring new ways to live and work, opened the year by stating that 2019 should be the year that you visit Helsinki. When Volkskrant magazine published an elaborate article on the exact same topic last Saturday, I felt I had to dive into it. While wanting to find out why large mainstream media are paying so much attention to this tiny Northern Capital, I managed to rekindle my fondness for the hidden beauty of this country I was born in.
Design as part of every day life
For most part of the past 100 years design has been an integral part of every day life in Finland. Looking around any given Finnish home you’re bound to find the same thoughtfully designed items in all of them. Drinking glasses by Iittala, curtain fabric by Marimekko, the orange-handled scissors by Fiskars and plates with ‘Moomin’ characters, a wildly popular comic character , to name but a few. Design is so closely entwined with all aspects of life in Finland that it has become a signifier of the Finnish way of life.
On a more visible level, architectural design has always been widely present in Finland. Alvar Aalto and Eero Saarinen, two internationally acclaimed architects, have left a mark on much of the Finnish urban landscape. About half a decade after the heydays of these masters of Scandinavian architecture a new generation is ready to take over. Just in the past two years, several new landmarks have risen in Helsinki.
The contemporary art museum Amos Rex received a complete architectural re-design by the Finnish architects JKMM  and has been attracting large numbers of visitors after its official opening last summer. More recently the Helsinki design scene witnessed a highlight when the new central library Oodi, designed by ALA Architects  was opened. Both are fine examples of Finnish design thinking were practicality is always combined with a certain simplified feel for aesthetics.
Could it be that the omnipresence of design is the secret ingredient of happiness associated with living in Finland? 2018 saw the publication of the UN World Happiness Report  where Finland came in first as the happiest nation on earth. Not surprisingly, this came as a surprise to most Fins themselves who are known for their modesty. In their 2019 annual Forecast, Monocle, an international magazine on global affairs, culture and design, published an in-depth article about the Finnish happiness factor . According to Monocle, the Fins have over the years developed an innate feeling of contentment. Perhaps some of this will rub off when visiting the country?
Something that will definitely rub off when visiting Finland is the dirt off your skin and the stress off your mind. With the number of sauna’s in Finland estimated at around 2 million  there should be enough to choose from. Unfortunately by far most of these are private sauna’s but that too is now changing with the revival of the sauna as a community-feel creator and therefore the opening of many new public sauna’s.
Avanto Architects designed the beautiful wooden public sauna Löyly on the shores of the Gulf of Finland, not far from the Helsinki city center, which was opened in 2016. Very soon after the opening it received the award of one of the World’s 100 greatest places to visit by Time Magazine . In 2017 a similar project was finalised where a public sauna by OOPEA Architects was opened on a tiny island in Helsinki’s archipelago .
Tranquility & calm
In times of turmoil, as we’ve witnessed around the world the past years, we humans tend to look for tranquility, calm and security. Not many countries can match what Finland has to offer if this is what you’re in need of. The beautifully designed objects and buildings that appeal to the eye, the tranquil and soothing effect of the sauna that calms the nerves and the certainty that you will find what you’re looking for are possibly the best reasons to visit. Need I say more? Let’s go already!
Eva, february 2019
- Oodi, the new central library in Helsinki by ALA Architects was designed to create a living meeting place for all citizens of Helsinki. Photo © Anu Heikkinen.
- Arial picture of Oodi, the new central library in Helsinki, illustrating the dynamic between the building and its location in central Helsinki which was an important starting point in designing the library. Photo © Tuomas Uusheimo.
- Löyly, meaning the steam that comes off when you throw water on the hot stones in a sauna, is a public sauna designed by Avanto Architects and built on the shores of Helsinki. As the sense of community is becoming an increasingly important element of urban culture, more and more public saunas are being built in Finland. Photo © kuivo.com
- The central marketplace in Helsinki, seen from the sea on this picture, has a very easygoing and relaxed feel to it. One of the most distinct landmarks of the city is the old dome church, Tuomiokirkko, that watches over the city. Photo © Anu Heikkinen.
- The contemporary art museum Amos Rex by JKMM Architects has a modern quirky look accentuated by the structural dome ceilings that contain the underground exhibition spaces. Photo © Mika Huisman