Helsinki is a hotbed of modern design, rooted in its rich design tradition while continually innovating and looking to the future. This was evident at this year’s Helsinki Design Week – held from 7 to 17 September in various museums, galleries, shops and public spaces throughout the charming capital. With over 250 events, the biggest design festival in the Nordic region showcased an enticing combination of classic Finnish icons and innovative new work from young designers. HDW 2017 clearly showed the important role that design plays in the city and in the hearts of its citizens.

The living legend

One of the highlights at HDW this year is Yrjö Kukkapuro’s exhibit at Gallery Lemmetti. The designer and artist is one of Finland’s living legends: at 84, he is still designing and building – with his own hands – elegant, ergonomic chairs in primary colours. Yrjö Kukkapuro Experiment shows his most iconic chairs (the most famous one is Karuselli from 1964) alongside new works, including the black and red Deko, which the artist revealed were completed only a couple of days before the opening.

Kukkapuro’s unique furniture designs are aesthetically and ergonomically refined. A master of ergonomics, the artist is a firm believer in function above all, although this has gradually evolved throughout the years to give aesthetics an important role. ‘Function is the first idea all the time. But today, “visual function” is more important for me. If there’s a nice-looking chair in the room, it gives someone inspiration. It’s functional and it’s ergonomic – in a different way,’ says Kukkapuro, gesturing to his temples to indicate the impact of the design on the mind rather than the physical body.

The icon

When speaking about Finnish design, one cannot fail to mention Alvar Aalto’s work. Ateneum Art Museum’s Alvar Aalto: Art and the Modern Form is a wonderful overview of the designer and architect’s best works, featuring emblematic objects and pieces of furniture as well as architectural drawings and scale models.

Photo Ville Malja. Courtesy of Finnish National Gallery.

The comprehensive exhibition illustrates how Aalto’s organic design idiom developed in interaction with contemporary visual artists, as well as the designer’s multidisciplinarity. ‘Aalto is not limited to architecture history, nor only art history, nor design history; Aalto’s work certainly alludes to other branches as well. I’ve talked with lighting specialists, people who were studying structures, engineers… The exhibition demonstrates how rich Aalto has been and still is as a topic,’ shares Susanna Pettersson, director of Ateneum and former director of the Alvar Aalto Foundation.

Photo Hannu Pakarinen. Courtesy of Finnish National Gallery.

Photo Hannu Pakarinen. Courtesy of Finnish National Gallery.

One particularly interesting aspect of the exhibition is his collaboration and friendship with modernist masters such as Alexander Calder and Fernand Léger. Aalto and his contemporaries were greatly influenced by each other’s works, says Petterson. ‘Curiosity is one of the drivers of his creative process, as well as the sharing of ideas,’ she explains.

The young blood

This vibrant design heritage, without question, continues to current times. Enter and Encounter at Design Museum features thoughtful works by young designers in Finland, exploring how design challenges the present and shapes the future. This optimistic view on design and innovation can also be seen in Habitare, Finland’s leading furniture, interior decoration and design fair.

Photo Paavo Lehtonen.

Photo Paavo Lehtonen.

Habitare not only featured interior-design giants such as Muji and IKEA, but also presented brilliant works from young designers. Elina Ulvio’s Kuu (Finnish for ‘moon’) pendant lights are reminiscent of the different phases of the moon, and can rotate to give both direct and indirect lighting. The project was awarded Best Product of the Year by the Association of Finnish Interior Journalists.

Meanwhile, at the Protoshop exhibition, Kristoffer Heikkinen’s innovative Spare caught our eye with its simple ingenuity. The easily adaptable piece of furniture can transform from a mattress to a sofa with the aid of a simple metal frame. It’s an innovative solution in terms of aesthetics, function, and space, especially useful for urban-dwellers with small apartments.

The future

Another highlight of Habitare is Signals – an exhibition by trend analyst Susanna Björklund, which looks into the signals of future trends in interiors, lifestyle and design. Four major trends identified by Björklund are represented as different rooms of a home: Coincidence, Ageless, What Colour Are Your Glasses, and Offline.

Photo Martti Järvi

Photo Martti Järvi

Offline resonates with us the most as a strong countertrend for digitalization. It puts an emphasis on intuition, soft values, mindfulness and slowing down the pace of life through various projects and imagery: the Finnish traditions of going on forest walks and enjoying saunas, chopped wood, hotels without Wi-Fi, ballet shoes, and wooden toys.

Signals illustrates that more and more, people are longing for peace and quiet, and that products designed with passion and love will become more important in the future.

Photo Martti Järvi