Friday, 11 May 2012


Photo: Bernhard Ludewig

Helsinki-based architect and designer Hella Hernberg has always been a multidisciplinary-minded person, rather than someone who thinks inside the box. During her architectural studies, she worked at practices focusing on building design – at the same time she was drawn to the breadth and complexity of urban design. Today her work within research and design ranges from objects to urban projects. With Helsinki Beyond Dreams, a new publication on urban culture in Helsinki, she explores unfamiliar territory; producing, editing and publishing a book for the first time. So, what has she learned about her hometown by turning it into a book?

How would you describe your relationship with Helsinki?
It's been a love-and-hate relationship, lately developed strongly towards the love side. I've lived in Helsinki since 1995 (apart from short stays abroad) and I can say the city has definitely changed dramatically for the better in the past five years or so. What has been most surprising about Helsinki is the new attitude among its people – a new we-spirit and guts to make the city a better place with small initiatives and interventions. 

What do you see as the most important urban transformations in Helsinki?
The relocation of the two inner-city harbours, Jätkäsaari and Kalasatama, to the eastern district of Vuosaari, opened up vast new spaces right next to the city centre and this is something quite exceptional in many ways. Of course it gives the opportunity to build whole new inner-city districts and develop new kinds of housing and architecture but in the meantime I think the new, industrial face of these areas that used to be inaccessible to the public, has been really inspiring for the people. Places like Kalasatama have developed into a playground for new, experimental culture. There's a lot of energy now in the people and places like this give the possibility to turn this energy into something new.  
In Helsinki Beyond Dreams, the Finnish concept of “sisu” is mentioned. What role would you say this type of determination has had in creating a lively Finnish capital? 
When you want to realise a new idea, something unconventional or different from what people are used to, it often takes a lot of "sisu" or perseverance to get to your goal. It can mean navigating in the jungle of bureaucracy and regulations,  believing in your idea when others are doubtful or sorting out the finances. 

You have founded the online journal Urban Dream Management, where you promote an open-minded and collective attitude for developing new ideas. Would you say people in Helsinki dare to dream?
I think they're becoming better at it all the time. Traditionally I've had the idea that Finnish people are very much reliant on the government and sticking to the rules and conventions. But I feel there's a new generation that is able to question how things are done and see things in a more broad-minded way. It's important to encourage and support people with their ideas.
What kind of urban dreams do you personally have?
My dream city would combine things from small villages and big cities, having both the slowness and the intensity. My urban dreams are very much related to ecological values: cities that could function more ecologically, where there's more local services and where more commodities are shared, for example. In my dream city you'd be able to lead a lifestyle that leaves more time and space for immaterial, basic things in life: people, friends, family and good food. Simply enjoying the small things in life.
Having edited Helsinki Beyond Dreams, how would you describe a city that lies beyond dreams?
I'll leave that to the reader's imagination... But I could say that it's about being able to dream, imagine and envision new futures in the first place, and then about the courage to go beyond common conventions or sometimes beyond the comfort zone.

Hella Hernberg is one of the Finnish speakers for HEL/LO – Let’s Talk About Dreams, held at The Gopher Hole 24 May.

Interview by
Jenni Tuovinen