Saturday, November 27, 2010

Culture Study Trip, Day 1: Sunday: Helsinki

The air was cold. Not surprising since it was winter and I was currently residing in a Nordic region. What was unusual was the fact that we were farther South from the University, which should have been colder than here. I guess since we were closer to a big amount of water I should have expected it. Anyways, my group had disembarked the train and dropped off our stuff at the hotel after an overnight ride to Helsinki from Oulu; the capital of Finland, after first being in Turku and then finally in present Helsinki (which had previously been on the mouth of the River Vantaa for defense and trading but it later proved unfavorable and was moved to its’ present location.)
I can definitely say that it was a major improvement in architecture in comparison to the forest city of Oulu. The very air and cultural vibe suggested that I stepped into another side of Finland. Since we arrived on a Sunday morning it was pretty quiet, so I was able to focus more on my surroundings rather than the constant distraction with traffic and people.
  We left the city on a tour bus to head out to a sort of artist colony (as I call it or maybe someone else did but I can’t remember) to see the homes of major names in Finnish culture and history. We first stopped at the home of architect of Eliel Saarinen, which was currently being run as a museum of the architects and artists who once lived and worked in and around Saarinen’s house. At first glance it caught my attention. The greenery lovingly attached itself to the walls. The lake, Hvittrรคsk or white lake in Swedish, calmly flowed behind the house. The doors and windows warmly welcomed in not only visitors but also the light itself. It was like one of those storybook houses you read about but hardly see in America. There were very few dark areas in this house in my opinion. One could basically be close to nature here without being battered by the weather in the National-Romantic style that Saarinen worked with. And with all the furniture and rooms being quaintly made by the architect and his creative family there was also a story like all good homes should have.
Saarinen had first married a girl named Matilda Gylden. Being a man who worked twelve hours a day on his creations or projects, he rarely had time for the beautiful social butterfly. She then went across what I call some sort of courtyard to spend time with Saarinen’s fellow architect Herman Gesellius. At that same time Gesellius’ sister, Loja was living with him to help with his current projects. She not only worked with Gesellius but also worked side by side with Saarinen during his twelve-hour workdays. As fate would have it both couples became really close and in 1904 both Matilda and Saarinen got a divorce and then married their lovers. One would think there would have been animosity between the two couples but in actuality they staid pretty close. As evidence or result of this story, there was a stained class window of Matilda sitting on a bench in the middle with Saarinen and Gesellius sitting on each end, in the common dining area and in the kid’s play room.  This was my favorite piece along with the hand stitch carpet benches by Loja. I must say that Nordic countries sure do know how to decorate and build homes.
Another thing I would like to mention was how Saarinen designed his bathroom. Not a big fan of saunas (unusual in Finland), he placed this pretty big bathtub in its’ stead. Though what caught my eye and attention were the sinks. Yes there were two of them, which from my limited exposure, was not very common in Finnish bathrooms at that time. These sinks were placed at windows instead of the common walled mirror. It is said that Saarinen believed that one would live longer if one didn’t see oneself in the morning. Personally I am in total agreement because no one looks great when his or her eyes first open. In fact, I love this concept so much I am going to make my bathroom that way when I build a house.
In addition to some of his work in Finland, there are a lot of structures that in Saarinen constructed in America since he got more work there. The most known work was with his son Eero with the creation of the General Motors Technical Center in Michigan, the Paris World Exhibition and his son’s design of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. After the North tower of his home was burnt down, Saarinen moved his family to America since the cost to repair the tower and upkeep the house would have been major in relation to the slow job market he had in Finland.

After that visit we headed to the colony and looked at the artist Pekka Halonen‘s Karelian house, Halosenniemi. As expected at any Karelian home, it was made out of timber. Though the crown jewel would be the humongous of a window that let in the light of the day for Halonen to work freely on his paintings. The rest of his house was decorated in themes of his artwork in each room respectively. One main difference from Saarinen’s home was the fact that the rooms were larger and the doorframes were bigger. After that we took a tour of the Ateneum Art Museum that was currently hosting work by Halonen and other historical or contemporary art. 

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