JKMM Architects on designing better life

As the Beijing Design Week kicked off in several locations around the city, silence descended upon one installation in particular. The joint collaboration between JKMM Architects, Helsinki Design Week and the City of Helsinki offers a peaceful and calming peek into what it is that makes Finland – and Helsinki – a happy home.

Beijing Design Week, held from 18 September–7 October 2021, focuses on the theme Designing Better Life. As Helsinki joins in as the Guest City of the largest design festival in Asia, the collaboration allows for an excellent opportunity to showcase Finnish design and expertise – while showing visitors what well-designed everyday life and smart solutions for learning and urban planning are like in Helsinki.

“Finland has been named the happiest country in the world for four consecutive years by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network,” recounts Päivi Meuronen, Creative Partner and Interior Architect SIO at JKMM Architects. “So for us designing the installation, it became vital to research what it is that actually makes us happy. We truly wanted to find the recipe for happiness.”

Instead of merely putting together a stand showcasing material things that might be, yes, quintessentially local, JKMM Architects opted to find immaterial things that would convey the sense of being Finnish. Of living a happy and content life. “We wanted to create a multisensory experience that would, for example, entice the guest’s sense of smell while surrounding them in deep soundscapes.”

The impressive on-site installation in Beijing came to consist of seven cubic spaces which visitors are allowed to walk in or alternatively, peek into. The spaces are divided, and named, with regard to the elements that make living happy, namely: Forest, Knowledge, Work, Sauna, Food, Rest and Play. The installation’s main materials are a beautiful combination of printed textiles by Marimekko and Finnish timber panels by Wood from Finland. In the middle of it all, stands the communal meeting place, the Square, where workshops and events take place during the festival.

“For us, it was important not to arrive in China with an installation stating that we know it all, that we in Finland hold the keys to happiness,” Meuronen explains. “We felt it was much more rewarding to try to find interests and values that both nationalities share.”

A dialogue which is present from small visual details such as signs in local language printed on small flags, as is customary in visual communication in China, to elements such as the installation’s stools and long tables being manufactured by a local, partnering workshop in China. Something which also goes hand in hand with the goal of keeping the installation’s carbon footprint as small as possible. Building materials are locally sourced and not shipped from Finland and the intention is that, ultimately, the materials will be recycled once the festival is over. Leaving behind nothing but a memory of a deep, green forest and a certain sense of silence.

With the festival attracting over eight million visitors and almost 10,000 participating designers and organisations from over 30 countries each year, the Finnish pavilion opted for a very special, and typically Finnish, presence.

According to Meuronen, the ultimate task for the designers was to make the installation look and feel calm in the typically noisy atmosphere of the design fair. “We wanted to create space by being silent, the installation tempts you with its tranquility.”

“During Children’s Day, we got reports of local school children visiting the installation and absolutely loving it. According to fellow spectators, the sight of small children spending time in the space had been deeply moving and quite rightly so. We intended to make our presence family-centered and full of calm.”

A happy combination also very much appreciated in Chinese culture.

“The philosophy of JKMM Architects is to create meaningful buildings and spaces that promote empathy and joy in our lives. The Recipes for Happy Helsinki Home installation fits excellently into this way of thinking. The installation focuses on the concept of family, spending time together and the functional pieces of Finnish everyday life. We are delighted to be able to showcase the simple ways in which one might be able to build a good life,” concludes Meuronen.

More information about the Guest City Helsinki programme here.