Thursday, May 5

Design District Helsinki

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It is May again and I have been thinking a lot about my trip to Finland this time last year. Helsinki was still bitterly cold, with the freezing Northern winds howling around and occasional hailstorms adding to the chill. But once I discovered the Design District, I simply didn’t notice the cold anymore. I’d found my favorite place in the world – the perfect place to make me happy. Actually happy is a small word – ‘like a kid in a candy store’ describes my state of mind much better!

The Design District is a creative cluster in the heart of Helsinki consisting of 25 streets and 200 shops, cafes, boutiques, restaurants, art galleries, museums and design hotels. It is an absolute Mecca for design junkies like you and me. You would know you are in the Design District when walking around central Helsinki; you come across shop windows bearing black stickers.

All these shops are part of the Design District Association, set up in 2005 in order to bring together Finnish design labels spanning diverse crafts, fashion, textiles, furniture, jewellery and lighting in one area of Helsinki. This creative hub hosts Finland's biggest design brands such as Iittala, Artek, Marimekko, Aarikka and Aero. At the same time, it is also home to many new designers who have yet to gain international recognition. Clustering big and small labels creates joint opportunities for marketing and organizing major events in the area. Such as the Design District Week, which I was lucky to be part of - shops stayed open for late night shopping, the programme included meetings with the artists, discounts, workshops, demonstrations and much more.

Design is very much a part of daily life in Finland and makes up the core of Finnish national identity. Helsinki has had a long tradition as a city of design, a reputation further boosted by having a thriving Design District at its heart. It is like a large open museum of contemporary Finnish design, which is characteristically minimalistic, durable, robust and functional.

The district does not have a set boundary and spans out from the Dianapuisto Park at its centre, towards Kamppi, Esplanade and Eira. It reminds me of a bazaar where shoppers can stroll from store to store, and have a richer experience than the confinement of a modern shopping mall. My favorite spot in the district is the triangle around Diana Park (named after the sculpture of Diana by Yrjö Liipola which was unveiled in 1929). It has the Design Forum Shop, which provides information about the latest trends in Finnish design and right across the street is Aero, a must visit for contemporary furniture.

Aero is right across the road from the Design Forum Shop
Images courtesy Laila Alanen from the Design Forum Finland   

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