previous stateNext to the Helsinki railway station, and constructed on land artificially reclaimed from the sea, was a spread of secondary lines that were no longer in use, in the middle of an area where the regular layout of the centre of the city opens up towards the large, green and forested zones from which the most recent population of Helsinki derives. This railway-line area, which for many years housed installations that were annexes to the station, fell into disuse and, once the branch lines that had marked the surface of the ground had been removed, it was converted into a sand-covered esplanade. Apart from old train sheds, it was practically deserted and hardly used. The site, right next to the administrative nucleus of the city, was discovered by alternative civic movements that began to use it as a meeting place, organising many activities inside the obsolete train sheds.
aim of the interventionIn 1997, the city called for tenders with a view to transforming the zone and recovering it for all the citizens while integrating it into the urban setting. While awaiting the definitive plan, the City Council decided that the transformation of the site could begin with the construction of a big public park on the bay in keeping with the project that was to be chosen from the tenders. These open gardens would become consolidated as a large-scale meeting point only a few minutes from the centre of the city, and would herald the future development of the entire area. The Töölönlathi Bay Arts Garden was opened in June 2000, coinciding with the celebration of Helsinki's 450th anniversary and its designation that year as one of the cultural capitals of Europe.
The plan was officially approved in 2002, with the project that guided the construction of the park as its basis. The entire area was to be remodelled and developed so that it would become a new bayside district adjoining the historic centre of the city.
descriptionThe park was a temporary phenomenon, part and matrix of a process of urban development to be carried out subsequently, the first visible change along the way to specifying a more extensive plan for the future of the area. This was nothing less than an intervention that would involve a new residential area for the city with the construction of a u-shaped group of housing blocks in a landscape that had been completely transformed and where the water of the bay will be returned to places from which it had once been expelled. The park on Töölönlathi Bay, or the Töölönlathi Bay Arts Garden, was installed in the city as an interim public space before the completion of the definitive future park, a set of public spaces in a new city-centre district, with new docks areas by the water. The layout of the interim park had all the traces of the future transformation implicit in its design.
The intervention was based on the planting of gardens in a spread of lawn criss-crossed by different itineraries, as a kind of map that suggests the future lines of replanting in the subsequent intervention. The discreetly outlined shapes of the planted areas floating in a sea of grass are to become real islands with the return of the water. The wooden footbridges that conserve the lawn are the future connecting points between the docks, and access paths to the new housing blocks. The precise site for the construction of these blocks has been defined by a spread of sand that serves as a public square to be used for multiple activities. With circus tents, marquees and big stages it has attracted the attention off the Helsinki residents to the project.
A group of Japanese artists has constructed different installations in the park, some of them incorporating recycled material from the old railway track area, along with ingenious constructions for children's play activities. Some of the numerous flowerbeds were distinguished by spreads of blue-toned species as a harbinger of the water that would eventually be introduced but, in general, the diversity of the plants flooded the garden with many hues and filled the new open space with life. Since its construction, the Arts Garden has changed its appearance every year, bestowing a naturally dynamic image as the park’s plants grow and offering a natural spectacle that is enjoyed close-up by thousands of local residents every summer.
assessmentJust as the old lines criss-crossed the former railway esplanade built on an area of ground that had once been reclaimed from the sea, the traces of what was to come, even while not yet tangible, took on a certain degree of visibility in the lines of the park's itineraries over the grass in a general configuration that had its poetry in the transition and successive stages that it represented as a structure woven between the past of water and the future of a place that, even as a temporary phenomenon, has lost neither its force nor its functions.
In fact, the opposite is true. The Töölönlathi Bay gardens, in an area that will be deliberately re-flooded by the Baltic as part of a process of partial restitution of the shoreline and natural regeneration of the bayside zone, has become an extremely popular area in anticipation of the public functions to be performed by the open spaces of the coming residential district. Before the construction of the new district, the spaces have been offered to the citizens of Helsinki so that they have been participants in the change that has enriched urban life with a regenerated space that symbolises a further progressive transformation.
Mònica Oliveres i Guixer, architect