New neighborhoods of Helsinki, Part I – Kalasatama

We made a quick visit to Kalasatama to see how the construction of a new Helsinki neighborhood is coming along. Under construction until 2030, Kalasatama will eventually be home to approximately 20 000 residents and some 8 000 workspaces. Today only a relatively small cluster of apartment buildings was ready but the trip was really interesting nevertheless.

We didn’t like:

  • The built area was surrounded by huge wastelands on all sides. The walk from the metro station felt pretty long since there was nothing to see on the way.
  • Most buildings did not have ground level retail or office spaces. We found only one shop (a grocery) in the whole area. Is this going to be a one-function suburb or a part of the city center?
  • On courtyard side many building facades consisted of boring white pre-fab concrete elements.
  • Most courtyards had a terribly synthetic atmosphere. In an expensive area like this we were expecting a little more plants and warm, inviting materials.
  • Some courtyards had fences dividing the yards into parts. In our opinion: a failure of design.
  • Many of the statutory courtyard playgrounds were really sterile, rigid and uninviting. A metal grid with orange balls? Really?
  • There was no public art or public spaces for that matter. In our opinion at least one park should be ready when the first residents move in. But apparently that’s not the way things roll in Helsinki.

We enjoyed:

  • Car parking was nicely hidden under the courtyards and one brave block had no car parking at all. That’s the way to do it!
  • The area felt much more dense – in a positive, urban way – than new Finnish neighborhoods in general.
  • The building design was more ambitious than Finnish apartment building design in general. We didn’t like the look of all buildings but it was refreshing to see something less ordinary.
  • On the street side buildings looked good and had nice materials. Some buildings even had decorative textures and playful elements.
  • There were some nicely intimate, small alleys leading to the courtyards. An element totally absent in the last decades of urban planning in Finland is luckily back.
  • Streets were mostly finished, unlike in the other new Helsinki neighborhood Jätkäsaari…
  • The scale of the streets was pleasant and pedestrian friendly.
  • There were many nice views both to the beautiful nature of Mustikkamaa and the urban & historical attractions of Suvilahti.

It will be very interesting to see what the future holds for Kalasatama. Hopefully the next building projects will add public spaces, retail, office spaces and public art into the mix. There’s a lot of potential for a really interesting neighborhood, be sure to pay a visit!

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