PlaceMaking Workshop

Helsinki 2012

“It’s hard to design a space that will not attract people. What is remarkable is how often this has been accomplished.”

– William (Holly) Whyte

Today I attended a Placemaking workshop organized by Aalto University in collaboration with Helsinki Design week .  The workshop was lead by Elena Madison, vice president of Projects for Public Spaces, New York, “a nonprofit planning, design and educational organization dedicated to helping people create and sustain public spaces that build stronger communities”.

The idea of the workshop was to evaluate and suggest improvements to the waterfront site in Helsinki district of katajanokka, a proposed site for Helsinki Guggenheim museum. Currently it a barren space with the seafront sectioned off by a fence as it is a customs zone for the nearby Stockholm ferries. The workshop was held in the old The Old Customs Warehouse, or Tulli- ja Pakkahuone in Finnish, a stunning turn of the century building, which is now used as a design hub and an exhibition space.

Old Customs house Helsinki

In the morning the four participants including students from curatiorial studies, design management, interior design and myself attended a presentation by Elena Madison:

She spoke of a public space as a starting point rather than an afterthought. She mentioned William H. Whyte, the mentor of PPS, who is an author of books such as The Organization Man,  1956, where he critiques surbanisation, The Exploding Metropolis, The Last Landscape, and The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, a social study of public spaces. His research activities included behaviour mapping, time lapse, he promoted holistic view and observation.

 One of the best things about water is the look and feel of it. It’s not right to put water before them and then keep them away from it… Benches are artifacts, the purpose of which is to punctuate architectural photographs. They are not so good for sitting.

In the afternoon we went to evaluate the site using the same evaluation form that is normally given t the members of the community in question. On the first page of the form, called Place Game, was an evaluation table, where we had to rate the place in its existing format, to rank it on comfort and image, access & linkages, uses & activities as well as its sociability. On the second page were questions like “List at least ten activities you would like to be able to do in this place?” “who else should be attracted to use this space (teens, mothers, seniors, artists, etc)?” and others concerning what we would do with the space.  Then we made suggestions and drew a plan for the site.  Image by Santo Leung

The plan will probably  not be realised, but hopefully it will help the architects to create a better environment in the area sometime in the future.

Below is a beautiful visualisation by one of the participants, Sini Parikka. Please see armi website for a report by Sini.

Many thanks to Elena, all the organisers and participants, and Santo Leung for the photo.


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