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Arctic Cities
by Lewis Martin
2007-03-09 09:50:50
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I remember waking up in Madras, India, some fifteen years ago, the moist heat a constant pressure on your head, wondering how anyone could get up and work in the sweltering heat. Yet for a majority of people in the world extreme heat is a much more common thing to live with than extreme cold. So now living in Helsinki one of the most northerly capitals in the world, I know that in both extremes nature must be accommodated and treated with the respect she deserves, so I was interested to visit the exhibition currently on at the Finnish Architecture Museum called .

All the cities here are potentially fascinating subjects for an exhibition as they are amongst the last cities on the edge of civilisation before you get to the arctic landscape proper where progressively fewer and fewer people live. These cities however are not clinging onto the margins of human culture but are actually full of life.

Tromsø, for example, is a bustling lively city with a university and burgeoning ecological and weather research centres, even a fab lab where you can make anything you want. Remember this place is so far north you have to point your TV satellite dish at the ground.

Kiruna, meanwhile, is a city whose reason for existence, is its huge mine, also slowly eroding and destroying the city from below. It must start to move in the next few years in order to avoid falling into the abyss quite literally. Oulu is the biggest city in the north with a high-tech industry that would be coveted in many much larger cities. All have different cultures and languages imposed on an older culture and people, the Sami, who straddle the far north in dwindling numbers.

In short, therefore these strange cities may be able to say something beyond their Architecture, in their extreme climates, cultural differences and relative success maybe we can discern something of a way to live well with nature rather than bulldozing virgin ground and building concrete jungles. Unfortunately you won't find much of this in the exhibition.

There are lots of Architectural photos and some good models, but nothing more. There's nothing to tie these things together or illustrate their different approaches, or their achievements and failures, plus there's nothing that really gets to the heart of these fascinating places. So outside of a narrow group of Architects, like me, not many people will find this exhibition interesting.

All these places have something to teach us about how to make successful communities in difficult conditions, that's what good urban design means. However, you just might have to visit these cities to find out for yourself.

Museum of Finnish Architecture
Kasarmikatu 24, Helsinki

Until April 8 2007

Opening hours: Tue–Sun 10–16, Wed 10–20
Entrace fee: 3,50 / 1,70 Free to children under 16, on Wednesdays to all

Visit the website for more information:

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trol2007-03-09 14:20:54
great you pointed out what is lacking from the exhibit

urban design, planning, managmenet, however you call it, urbanism, the context of architecture is absolutely fascinating and i think one of the few fields where a multi-disciplinary approach might be so utterly desirable

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