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Helsinki showcased sustainable and smart living at Beijing Design Week – the partially virtual festival programme was experienced by over 10,000 visitors

Helsinki’s programme at Beijing Design Week on 18–21 September attracted over 10,000 visitors on-site and via virtual platforms. The installation built in the exhibition hall of Beijing Design Week and the programme held there showcased the building blocks of good life in Helsinki, sustainable urban development and education innovations. In the spirit of the Helsinki themes, the materials and furniture of the installation will be reused after the festival.

Helsinki’s Designing Better Life programme at the largest design festival in Asia showcased Helsinki’s design thinking through smart innovations in sustainable urban development and education. Parts of the programme were implemented as virtual and hybrid events, in which visitors could participate through The Recipes for Happy Helsinki Home installation designed by JKMM Architects and built in Beijing.

At two expert seminars, the audience could listen to presentations about smart and sustainable urban solutions and innovations in learning and education. In addition these, the installation was also used to hold Design Diplomacy discussion events and workshops for children and families. You can watch the recordings of the Smart & Sustainable City and Innovations in Education seminars, and the Design Diplomacy events on Helsinki-kanava.

Overall, Helsinki’s programme at Beijing Design Week was attended by over 10,000 festival visitors on-site and online.

“We are extremely grateful and happy that Helsinki was selected as the festival’s Guest City this year. It’s great to see that Helsinki’s programme gained a lot of interest from the Chinese audience and the professionals who were the target group of the seminars. The goal of Helsinki’s Guest City project was to strengthen cooperation between the cities and open up new international opportunities for the participating companies. With regard to the restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the implementation and company coverage of the Guest City programme were extremely successful,” says Marja-Leena Rinkineva, director of economic development of the City of Helsinki, delighted.

“For the seminars of the Helsinki Guest City programme, a total of ten companies were selected to represent the newest solutions in sustainable urban development and education innovations. Chinese participants showed increased interest in clean solutions, and we have received contact requests about energy competencies and the charging of electric cars, for example. I believe that participating as a Guest City was a great opportunity for starting new cooperation and new business opportunities for Helsinki-based companies,” says Miska Hakala, CEO of Helsinki Business Hub.

The materials and furniture of the Helsinki installation will get a new lease of life in China

Responsibility and a sustainable future were not only seen in the themes of the Helsinki Guest City programme and the presentations at the events such as the Smart & Sustainable City seminar, but also in the practical design and materials of the Helsinki installation.

The aim was to keep the carbon footprint of the installation, designed by JKMM Architects, as small as possible. The installation made use of printed fabric by Marimekko and Finnish timber panels by Wood from Finland. However, these were not sent from Finland to China for the installation – materials already in China were used, instead. The installation furniture was produced by a Chinese partner workshop.

After the festival ends, the installation furniture and materials will be reused. Of the 200-metre-long Marimekko fabric, some parts will be donated to the Finnish Embassy in Beijing, while the students of the Academy of Arts & Design of Tsinghua University will come up with new uses for the other parts.

The footstools designed by JKMM Architects and used in the installation will also be donated onwards. Some of the footstools will be given to a children’s art project in the city of Zhengzhou, while others will be distributed to the volunteers and local employees who worked on the Helsinki Guest City project. Other furniture from the installation will be donated to the Beijing branch of Arkki School of Architecture for Children and Youth.

Of the eight wooden cubes used in the installation, three will have a long-term home at the offices of the Beijing Design Week organisation, at Gehua Tower in Beijing. The plan is also to reuse the remaining timber cubes at various events, for example.

Chinese artist Pan Jianfeng created Chinese characters for each of the spatial themes of the installation. The unique calligraphic works Forest, Knowledge, Rest, Play, Sauna, Food and Work will adorn the new building of the Finnish Embassy in Beijing, to be completed in January 2022. The Embassy’s conference rooms will be named after the characters.

“It’s essential that we don’t just talk about sustainable development and responsibility, but also make the Helsinki themes into reality and concretely support circular economy. It’s wonderful that Helsinki’s messages of Designing Better Life will live on in Beijing through the reuse of the materials and furniture,” says Heidi Forss-Anila, who managed the Guest City project at the Communications Department of Helsinki’s City Executive Office.

Beijing Design Week 2021 was held from 18 September to 7 October. Beijing Design Week is organised by Beijing Gehua Cultural Development Group and Beijing Industrial Design Center. Before Helsinki, the Guest City status has been awarded to nine cities, the most recent being Mexico City in 2019.

The main partners of the Guest City project of the City of Helsinki are JKMM Architects, Marimekko and Wood from Finland. Other corporate partners include Helsinki Distilling Company, Gradient Labs Ltd, Teknos, Inno, Moomin Characters, Fiskars Group, and Adi-kaluste, while programme partners include Helsinki Education Hub, Aalto University, Metropolia University of Applied Sciences and Helsinki XR Center, Arkki, HEI Schools and Kide Science. Luovi Productions Oy, Mingle Advisors and TAPAUS have been involved in the production of the Guest City events. The project is coordinated by the Communications Department of the City of Helsinki Executive Office in close co-operation with the Economic Development Department.

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Helsinki Guest City project 

Recordings of Helsinki’s Guest Ciy seminars and the Design Diplomacy discussions on Helsinki-kanava

Photo: Embassy of Finland, Beijing