Helsinki Named World Design Capital for 2012


Helsinki's designers have always been central to its culture. But after the collapse of the neighboring Soviet Union, with whom Finland shared a special trade agreement, its economy faltered. Thanks to a new crop of cutting-edge designers—plus the rise of bigger technology companies like Nokia—the last few years have seen the city become a global center for design—in part thanks to the design district which was created to corral many of the rising fashion, furniture and graphic entrepreneurs. And today, the Scandinavian city beat out 46 other cities to be named as the World Design Capital for 2012, which is awarded every two years by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (Icsid) World Design Congress in Singapore.

Here's a look at the unique design world you'll find on the shores of the Baltic.

Eero Saarinen

Natives like Eero Saarinen (and his father Eliel Saarinen) are among the many world-famous architects and designers whose legacies are firmly intertwined with the city. Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future will be up at the Museum of the City of New York until the end of January.


The splashy, abstracted graphics of textile powerhouse Marimekko were made into a pop culture milestone when worn by the then-First Lady Jackie Kennedy and haven't faded from national prominence since.


Glassware empire Iittala, with its distinctive hand-blown pieces and sturdy, modern tableware has become a staple on well-set dinner tables around the globe.


Mobile leader Nokia is no stranger to probably any cell phone user on the planet, but the company is also responsible for luring other technology and innovation companies to the city.


Fiskars—yes, those distinctive orange-handled scissors—is Helsinki's oldest company, just celebrating its 360th birthday.

Alvar Aalto

Local architect Alvar Aalto's furniture company Artek has collaborated on its furnishings lines with designers like Tom Dixon and become a leader of sustainable manufacturing.

Harri Koskinen

A new generation of designers are carrying on the legacies of Helsinki's design giants. Industrial designers like Harri Koskinen have helped carry on Aalto's tradition with innovative furniture and materials.

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Even Finnish fashion houses like Ivana Helsinki are making a splash at runway shows and with collections for retailers like Topshop.


And young interdisciplinary firms like Kokoro+Moi (who designed the World Design Capital site) blend graphics, street art, interaction and product design in a vibrant new way for the city.

The year-long celebration will be named Open Helsinki: Embedding Design in Life. In the meantime, you can swing by Seoul, which will be hosting the World Design Capital duties in 2010.

[World Design Capital Helsinki 2012]

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  • Irene Cassarino

    ...and the reputation of Helsinki in the "design for sustainability" field is expected to become huger and huger: the new Jätkäsaari urban area (now a a decommissioned harbor site 10 minutes walking from downtown Helsinki) is piloting an innovative vision about climate change and sustainable living.
    In April 2009, the Finnish independent innovation fund Sitra (, headed by design expert Marco Steinberg (, launched Low2No (, an international design vision competition that inspired 72 teams from all around the world to submit their ideas on. An international jury ended up selecting the winning proposal "c_life" ( by Arup, Sauerbruch-Hutton and Experientia, among many outstanding competitors.
    This is what the Low2No project will be all about: envisioning inhabitants and visitors as actors for systemic change. Going far beyond the standard state-of-the-art sustainable infrastructure or the equally standard communications approach that tells people how to behave properly and save energy, the Low2No project will involve future inhabitants in the entire design process, in order to create an ecosystem of relevant affordances, timely information, and social, cultural and financial rewards that stimulates them to live and behave in a way that makes them happier and our planet more sustainable.
    Low2No will be one of the first projects globally to test this approach on the ground and the Sitra team behind it all hopes that its example will stimulate other cities and communities of people, to take on the climate challenge in innovative ways.
    Stay tuned: the Low2no site is expected to be ready right in 2012 and to hopefully welcome WDC visitors!
    Irene, for Experientia and the c_life team