Helsinki and Containers

17.09.2010 at 20:54 | Posted in Architecture, History, Industrial | 5 Comments

by Johannes Klein

Helsinki changes. It doesn’t change like Berlin after November 1989. It doesn’t change like Paris with the help of Georges-Eugène Haussmann, but Helsinki changes. The change has been visible in the constantly altered coastlines. And the change has manifested in the recent years by the migration of industries and harbours.

The Sinebrychoff brewery, which operated since the 1820 at Bulevardi in Hietalahti, moved to Kerava in the 1990. The Primula bakery is about to move from Vallila to Järvenpää. The railway track that once enclosed almost the entire city centre is now hardly recognizable anymore. Large areas close to the city centre were rededicated or are about to change from industrial use to housing and offices. This affects e.g. Arabianranta, Hernesaari or Valilla.

Most visibly the harbour activities in Kalasatama and the container harbour west of Helsinki’s city centre were moved to Vuosaari. The old harbour areas are now vast fields of concrete, asphalt and open pits in constantly changing patterns. During this transition the area can be occupied by interim activities.

Containers like those once handled on Jätkäsaari in the west harbour have got now wide meaning of mobility and flexibility and temporary use. This has been explored manifold all over the world. Containers host temporary offices at construction sites. They are modified and reshaped to all kinds of uses. They are used as symbols of mobility.

So, what about containers and Helsinki?

Let’s have look to the west harbour. A small tower of two containers informs at the entrance to the construction site at Jätkäsaari. Depending on the state of development they are moved from time to time.


Changing the location from west of the city to the east, we come to Kalasatama. Visiting Kalasatama, we first saw the marks of containers that were printed to the pavement. How many times containers full of goods were put down lifted on this spots? Which destinations are connected to this reminiscence of former use?


At the very southern end of the area three wind turbines installed on containers produce “mobile” energy.


Rather several containers are arranged to the Konttiaukio (container square), which hosts currently a variety of activities organized by e.g. the public school Helsinki, Merimieskirkko (Finnish Seamen’s Mission), Kuvataideakatemia (Finnish Academy of Fine Arts) or the environmental organisation Dodo. A blackboard at the square informs about upcoming events.

The void frame of containers on a (temporary) void spot offers plentiful possibilities. The containers set the link from former use to interim use and flexibility.

However, I can’t help, but seeing also another connotation in the containers. Containers are standardized; containers are compatible to each other; containers can display uniformity; containers are arranged in right angles. Somehow, this depicts the development of Helsinki too. The process of transition from harbour to housing is organized, it is smooth; it follows a schedule; there are little tensions; there is now vacuum that could suck in whatever comes close by accident. There is freedom, but is has a frame.

camera obscura

Just keep your eyes open, you might find much more examples. A mobile camera obscura, a home for wind surfers….



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  1. hello Johannes,
    I’d like to know more and write an article on this at Pop-Up City online magazine I’m also writing a Helsinki cityguide for Guidepal Augmented Reality app. Is there something happening in the area during winter? Where would I find more info?
    Would you please contact me asap


  2. This area is awesome, we had a little concert last week and will organize a festival this summer. Actually if you’ve heard of Flow festival it started there ! Anyway Helsinki is full of those hidden places, Great post, Your blog is really well explained ! Perfect
    We live in Kallio and this is our music :

    Much love,

    • Good luck with your festival there! You’re not going to be the absolutly first ones (, but at least you conquer Kalasatama ahead of Flow. Flow started in Makasiini in 2004. At that time Kalasatama was just a “normal” harbour for goods and passengers.

  3. Nice article About Helsinki.. Would be great if Aalto university was mentioned in it . Its a Nice Place to See in Finland :)

  4. Le plus vite possible, la société Help-Plomberie sur le voisinage, s’emploiera pour prendre en considération votre
    bizarrerie de climatisation et vous soumettra une évaluation sans obligation d’achat.
    Le remplacement de canalisations ou la réalisation de sanitaires sera exécuté de
    manière parfaite avec une stricte conduite de plombiers spécialisés.

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