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Articles and Columns, 07/12/2009

Design is Helsinki's destiny

In a decision announced on November 25, Helsinki becomes the World Design Capital for 2012, making Finland’s northern winter suddenly seem a lot brighter.

Helsinki, Finlandia Hall (photo: Visit Finland)Helsinki, Finlandia Hall (photo: Visit Finland)

For Helsinki and all of Finland, New Year’s celebrations are beginning early this year – and we aren’t talking about fireworks exploding in the chilly air over an ice-covered Töölö Bay or a snowy Senate Square. On November 25, the fireworks took the form of the announcement that Helsinki will be the World Design Capital in 2012.

The firework display was set off halfway across the world, at a meeting in warm, humid Singapore, the site of the World Design Congress held by the International Council of Industrial Design (Icsid). The news is brightening up the short northern winter days in the Finnish capital, and the Finns will continue to bask in the glow for a long time to come.

Opportunity knocks

The biennial World Design Capital status, held in 2008 by Turin, Italy and in 2010 by Seoul, South Korea, highlights the merits of design with a yearlong programme of events. Helsinki has a good start with its well-established Design District and annual Helsinki Design Week festival. Icsid organisers say they seek to "encourage the use of design to further the social, economic and cultural development of the world’s cities."

The official World Design Capital logo is about to become a very common sight in Helsinki.The official World Design Capital logo is about to become a very common sight in Helsinki.

Icsid picked Helsinki over the other finalist, the Dutch city of Eindhoven, and 44 other applicant cities. The World Design Capital differs from the many titles that recognise individual accomplishments. It aims to “focus on the broader essence of design’s impact on urban spaces, economies and citizens.”

For the Finnish capital, the designation (pardon the play on words) represents a great opportunity that “will extend well beyond one year and one city,” says Helsinki mayor Jussi Pajunen, on hand at the celebrations in Singapore. “The World Design Capital 2012 project will support the long-ranging development of the entire region.” The Finnish bid formed a cooperative effort including the surrounding municipalities of Espoo, Kauniainen and Vantaa, and the nearby city of Lahti.

Revitalise and reinvent

Helsinki has utilised design as a pivotal enabler for building an open city for decades, and titled its bid concept Open Helsinki – Embedding Design in Life. “Embedded design” ties design to innovation and enables desirable solutions that address the needs of city dwellers.

“We’ll invite all citizens, enterprises and organisations in Helsinki, as well as visiting design professionals and enthusiasts, to participate in the preparations and the events of 2012,” says Pajunen.

As Icsid puts it, Helsinki now has the chance to “showcase its accomplishments in attracting and promoting creative industries.” A World Design Capital demonstrates “how government and industry work with educational institutions, designers and citizens to revitalise and reinvent the urban environment.”

Revitalisation and reinvention – sounds like New Year’s arriving early.

Text: Peter Marten, thisisFINLAND


World Design Capital 2012 Helsinki
Icsid World Design Capital
Design District Helsinki
Helsinki Design Week

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Updated 09/12/2009

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