Città: Third Millennium

Città: Third Millennium in Helsinki, Finland by Pasi Kolhonen, 2000

The following images and text are Pasi Kolhonen's entry to the Venice Biennale's online competition – “Città: Third Millennium” (with awards assigned by a Committee made up by François Barré, Peter Cook, Massimiliano Fuksas, Frédéric Migayrou, Paul Virilio, James Wines, Greg Lynn), one of three honorable mentions in the professional architect category.

The photos I sent represent a global condition in which graphic information is taking over the cityscape. The upper half of the image is a snapshot of an everyday street in Helsinki; the lower half is the same picture with everything that is not an ad, a sign or a logo removed. What is left is a layer of commercial urban wallpaper that most often passes our eyes unnoticed. Similar pictures can be produced from almost any contemporary city.

We have moved away from functional engineer's aestethics admired by Le Corbusier in the twenties. Today we live in an era of economist's aestethics where every surface not used for advertising is considered to be an expense item. Images of things are cheaper to produce than things themselves. Illusion of 3D is rapidly replacing the actual 3D.

Things people carry around with them are always of the highest quality they can afford, whereas buildings they live in are cheap. Mobile phones,  laptop computers, cars and watches are cherished, while Ikea -like economic efficiency is expected of building industry. Rapid and low priced construction results in living environment becoming similar wherever you go. Even city centres are basically the same all over the world; a collection of intertwined shopping malls located underground and in comfortable indoor streets.

Today homes are connected to worldwide media and at the same time protected from their immediate surroundings. Physical human relations are no longer a necessity, rather they are becoming a hobby. The same technology that enables global communications is being used to control people in cities. In contemporary city everyone is a suspect.

Commercial buildings are getting designed according to corporate graphic standard manuals. Buildings have to match company's unified image; the same motifs have to be found in headquarters, warehouses, advertisements, letters and stationery. The work of an architect is becoming secondary compared to the work of graphic designer. Ambitious, expensive architecture, without superficial graphics, is being used the same way as corporate logos. These buildings have their own channels of getting published and they give their users easy recognition with an added cultural value. Even architectural discussion is being reduced to a few advertisement-like slogans.

When planning for the future it is vitally important to make a difference between that what is desirable and that what is real. This piece of work deals with the issues of today. If an architect cannot accept the conditions in which he or she has to work, what chance is there for building and maintaining successful cities in the third millennium? Reality has always got the sharpest resolution.