About Spirit of Place - Helsinki 2010

In August 2010, the Kalevalakehto was constructed on Seurasaari; designed and built by American and Finnish students of architecture and design, it is inspired by the Kalevala as a modern design (click here to learn more about the Kalevala). The project is located at Seurasaari, a natural place removed from the bustle of Helsinki, yet at its heart, a nexus of folklore, culture, and nature...what better place to create a 'legacy marker' to call forth all that makes Helsinki unique in the modern world: a crossroads of innovative ideas and networks, ancient mythology and deep-rooted culture, with a strong legacy of modern design.

2009’s MyHelsinki project fostered the connection to Travis Price Architects and the Spirit of Place-Spirit of Design university design-build expedition program, which for fifteen years has brought architecture students to create meaningful places to echo and celebrate the most ancient cultural lyrics of place within a modern design. All the creations were at remote sites as diverse as the mountains of Machu Picchu to the rugged west coast of Ireland to the sacred sites of Nepal.

Spirit of Place-Spirit of Design stirred a heartfelt resonance in Helsinki, steeped in its deep ancestral mythology, the Kalevala, while celebrating its identity as a world-class design city. The timing of the Kalevalakehto is ideal with the foundation of Aalto University, and the celebration of Helsinki as 2012 World Design Capital.

Project Highlights: The newly established Aalto University participated in the international student exchange, as a symbol of a new spirit of collaboration among the merged institutions. Building industries partnered to showcase the most innovative uses of Finnish wood, stainless steel, and glass. The design industry explored new products through a multi-disciplinary design process to evoke

Finnish cultural meaning alongside ecological responsiveness. International media attention focused on Helsinki, with major coverage by National Geographic Traveler Magazine, and online and print media. The project dedication events on August 26 officially launched Helsinki Design Week, and featured an array of allied arts events such as music and dance to dedicate the project and added buzz to existing prestigious and well-known public events, such as the Helsinki Festival, Art Goes Kapakka, and Night of the Arts.

The Kalevalakehto installation evokes the poetry of the Kalevala, and the stories of its ancient rune-singers. The product of the essence of Helsinki and Kalevala mythology, it is a meeting place to evoke the deepest thinking: where people can come together to solve problems, create visions, feel togetherness...in a place apart from everyday life, connected to nature, yet in the center of Helsinki, and in the spirit of the Kalevala.

Spirit of Place - Spirit of Design brings students from US and Finnish schools of architecture and design, all from different countries of the world, to design the project during the spring 2010 semester at The Catholic University of America, and Embassy of Finland in Washington, DC. During an intensive 9-day design charrette held in January 2010 in Washington, DC, they were immersed in study of the myriad historical and cultural lyrics of the Kalevala in order to design an evocative space to reflect and celebrate the spirit of a unique site in Helsinki. This project offers a new dimension of cultural exchange, and a new opportunity for collaboration between the Helsinki University of Technology and The Helsinki University of Art and Design, as one of the first joint programs under the merger into Aalto University.

The spring semester international educational exchange continues to be replete with lectures on Finnish history, literature, and culture, with scholars from Finland complemented with programs at CUA and the Embassy of Finland on architecture, art, music and film. During the 9-day design charrette in Washington, Finnish and American students developed metaphoric designs based upon Finnish culture and mythology, expressed in a modern idiom in a variety of media. The students then developed their own poetic and sculptural interpretations, and then further refined these into detailed architectural models: both physical and virtual, as well as working construction drawings. All are on public exhibit at the Embassy of Finland as part of a major exhibition on the cultural history of the Kalevala in March-April, 2010. In addition to the Spirit of Place course, a related graduate studio project is developing design proposals for a large-scale public urban project in Helsinki: a national museum of the Kalevala. These designs will be exhibited in Helsinki during Helsinki Design Week in late August/September 2010.

In August 2010, the students will be joined by local artisans to construct the Spirit of Place installation in Helsinki in 9 days. The construction will be open to the public during the Helsinki Festival, and dedication events will launch Helsinki Design Week, to provide an additional draw and media buzz to this already prestigious design event.