Excursions in Helsinki
BMH 03 - 16 - 2010

March 07, 2010 We arrived in Helsinki, Finland last night were we reunited with our third professor, Rod Underwood at the Hotel Grand Marina. An architectural highlight, the hotel speaks to the character of the old port location through an adaptive reuse of a port-side warehouse. Each room is custom fit to the historical shell of the warehouse, complete with a complimentary material pallet. This is one of the finest hotels of the trip. After a good night's rest, a guide from Architour met us in the lobby of our hotel and led us to a coach in the parking lot. The guide led us to the city center, followed by an introduction to the residential communities and commercial districts of Helsinki (top, left). The design-specific tour matched well with the focus of the trip, and many students found the tour insightful for their hometown projects. I was impressed to hear the guide refer to the cityscape as homogenous – a term in the profession often misinterpreted as bland. The contemporary buildings harmonize with the historical context, and they do not compete for a supreme avant-gardism. After evaluating the lack of environmental and contextual considerations in Abi Dabi and Dubai, I truly appreciate the “homogenous” streetscape of Helsinki, its crucial in defining the sense of place. The city's genius loci is largely a reflection of the Finnish mindset, but it also reflects a cohesive effort by the local government to enforce zoning laws and regulate the density and scale of the building. In fact, the majority of property in Helsinki is owned by the government and leased to residents. One architectural characteristic throughout the city, residential balconies adapt to the environmental shifts in the Scandinavian climate. While the balconies allow breezes into the home in warmer months, adjustable glass panels can reconfigure the space into a sunroom in the cooler months. After the guided-tour of the city and a short excursion, a group of us took a ferry ride to Suomenlinna Sveaborg, an island off the coast of the Helsinki mainland (bottom, left). It was my first time in an ice-breaker. The fortified island contained a snow covered village - empty but serene. I'd imagine the island is packed to the rim with tourist in the summer. We spent a couple minutes staring into the Baltic before we rushed back to the ferry – one minute too late. The ferry launched as we sprinted for the dock, but we had to wait forty minutes for it to return. Luckily we made it to the hotel in time for our ferry ride to Estonia. It's truly a shame we don't have more time to spend in Helsinki, but of all the destinations on World Tour, Scandinavia is on the top of my return-to-list.

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