Tuesday, 19 June 2012


Photo: Paavo Lehtonen

In preparation of HEL/LO 2 – Let’s Talk about Games we spoke to a Helsinki-based architect Martti Kalliala about the relationship between games, cities and imagination. Kalliala is the founder of the design and research studio Pro Toto, focusing on architecture, urbanism, strategic design and cultural analysis. His work has been exhibited internationally, and has received numerous awards and prizes. Kalliala recently edited and co-authored the book Solution 239–246, Finland: The Welfare Game, which puts forth a series of spatial, economic, social and cultural projects for tackling Finland’s quandaries. He says that the aim of the book was to frame – and to a certain degree also claim – a missing discourse. Parallel to his career in architecture Kalliala also comprises half of the electronic music duos Renaissance Man and Heat Death.

You call yourself “architect etc”. I’m curious to hear more about the “etc” part.
It's mainly there to afford me the liberty to assume from time-to-time a role where my 'spatial expertise' (or whatever it is that architects do and/or know) isn't considered my sole asset. However I have noticed I have been dropping the 'etc.' more often than not lately; ambiguity isn't always desirable.  

What are you up to at the moment?
Working on the Pro Toto website (to be launched in August at www.pro-toto.eu, designing an exhibition, doing preliminary research for a still secret project about to commence this summer, also doing research for an essay about the genealogy of the idea of the 'comfort zone', seducing potential clients, making plans. 

How important is the concept of games and a sense of imagination in your work?
If one wants to cultivate a critical dimension in one's work, which of course I do, I feel one
also has the responsibility to try to imagine productive and positive alternatives to current realities: spaces, institutions, power structures etc. 

Regarding games, I feel in many respects the hustling involved in running a studio or organizing one's life as a practice is in fact a game. However, to borrow an idea from Dong-Ping Wong that came up in a panel discussion some weeks ago, one must be conscious about the rewards one is after: in addition to winning – i.e. reaching a predefined goal, or simply sustaining the game – to 'keep on playing', gratification and fulfillment can be found in the dexterity and suaveness of one's gameplay.      

In your view, what is the relationship between games and cities?
As a general remark the notion of 'gamification' gives me shivers. Anyway, games and the processes that constitute the building and existence of a city are not only analogous but in fact share similar structures and organizing principles – even if, or maybe exactly because, both 'city' and 'game' are concepts without widely agreed-upon unambiguous definitions. Yet, if a city is literally interpreted as a game-like process, the most important thing in order to be able to affect any meaningful change is, in addition to identifying the players, to understand their rewards and aspirations – much in the same way as in the answer above. 

In your book Solution 239–246, Finland: The Welfare Game, you present a wide range of daring schemes for a future Finland. But what do you see as the most pressing issues in Finland right now?
To choose one that is specific to Finland, or at least amplified through its actual and psycho-geography would be isolationism; both as a political programme and mindset.  

What would your ideal city consist of?
Any city with a democratic, intense and dynamic social and cultural metabolism, affordable rents and an abundance of good food would be high on my list – even higher if dramatic topography is involved. Also it is important for a city to contain quasi-utopian islands with their own intensified ideologies, schedules, rules and priorities. These islands could be buildings, delineated territories, interior spaces, apartments, individuals or even states of being that exist only in time. Even if one doesn't engage with them directly, awareness of their presence, the latent possibility for alternatives, is what constitutes a truly metropolitan condition for me. I'm not sure if Helsinki is quite there yet.  

What has inspired you recently?
Synthetic fabrics and macro-histories by the likes of Manuel De Landa, Fernand Braudel and the McNeills. I also rediscovered music which is exciting: in addition to personally working on two musical projects, d'Eon, Slim K Slowdowns and Klaus Schulze have been on constant repeat. 

Interview by
Jenni Tuovinen and Stephanie Roiko