Credited with the origination of singular phenomena and products like ice skates and Fiskars scissors, saunas and SMS (short messaging system), Molotov cocktails (firebombs) and Angry Birds (popular video game), Finnish design is a canny homage to its "form follows function" axiom — with a generous sprinkle of moxie!
Rebuilt in the detritus of war, Helsinki's original edifices like the neoclassical, green-domed, Lutheran Cathedral and the red brick Uspenski Cathedral remain anchored in this coastal city, while modernistic structures flood around them. Indeed, I found the city's skyline to be dotted with towering cranes astir with urgent purpose.
Sustainability and recycling are cornerstones in every new project. The city aims to reduce emissions by an impressive 60 percent over the next decade, and to be carbon neutral by 2035, all the while fostering kinship amongst its denizens in the digital age. Perhaps there is no better example of Finland's progressive sensibilities and bonhomie than Helsinki's newly-minted Central Library Oodi. Warm wood melds with clear glass and lustrous steel to create a unique ecosystem that cultivates discovery and forges human connections through books, music, theatre, sport, food, and engaging with the elements.
Much like the Oodi, modern apartment homes are efficient and ergonomic with intuitive and charming use of otherwise dead spaces - like the hollow beneath stairwells. Think of Harry Potter's room in his aunt Petunia's house, designed by Antoni Gaudi! Or better yet, by Finland's very own creative maverick, Alvar Aalto, famed for his holistic approach to architecture that put a beating heart in every element of housing - from the grounded structural frame to smooth patinas, and accouterments like glass vases.
In 2014, Helsinki was awarded City of Design status as part of the Creative Cities Network established by UNESCO. The city's Design District is a vortex of unique ateliers, galleries, boutiques, and cafes. Engaging with artists and designers at work makes for an interactive theater of the creative process in play. Mirthful Moomin characters - shaped like jolly hippopotami with a belly full of laughs - based on a popular cartoon series are as ubiquitous on household wares like coffee mugs and aprons. As are the bright poppy flowers and bold dots of the world-famous Finnish lifestyle brand Marimekko. Iconic design house Iittala's presence too is evident in practical and pleasing tableware in eateries and homes.
What the elements don't offer during the cold months, the chipper Finnish conjure with a hearty flourish. There are an estimated two million saunas spread across the country's countless islands. Allas Sea Pool situated near the famous Market Square, replete with berry stands, and brick-a-brac vendors selling kuksas (wooden cups) and puukkos (traditional hunting knives), is an urban oasis with saunas and restaurants overlooking the Baltic Sea. Further south, the pyramid-shaped Loyly with its layered wood facade is a hotspot for locals and tourists, especially by nightfall.
A charming waterfront cafe housed in a quaint red hut is the perfect vantage point during regattas season when the weather reflects the warmth of the Finnish spirit. In summer, residents congregate at a pier to rid their carpets and rugs off the musty winter grime, while making merry in the glorious sunshine! I sat at one of the picnic tables between the washing stations and sturdy drying frames, and tried to imagine a summer-cleaning-Finnish-shindig!