By Russell Snyder, May 2012, updated June 2013
On Aleksanterinkatu, one of Helsinki’s main drags, the University of Helsinki is operating the Think Corner, a place to live, learn and socialise during the city’s year as 2012 World Design Capital. [Editor’s note: In June 2013, the Think Corner moved one block north and around the corner, reopening in the university’s Porthania building on Yliopistonkatu.]
An enthusiastic group is listening to a lecture called “Russian for Tourists: A 30-minute Course.” The speaker is teaching the group useful phrases and how to pronounce the sometimes challenging words.
Not far away, others are relaxing on comfortable couches, reading newspapers and magazines, browsing through scientific-themed books, or sitting in the cosy café area enjoying a latte. Today is devoted to the study of languages, and in addition to the lecture program, representatives from the English, Spanish, French, and Russian departments as well as the Language Centre are on hand to present their courses, methods and materials.
According to Ira Leväaho, the University of Helsinki’s project manager for the 2012 World Design Capital year, the Think Corner (Tiedekulma in Finnish) is a meeting place that brings the university and its first-class research to the public. Judging by the amount of visitors, the concept has proved a hit.
“The idea is to have an accessible space where people can learn about researchers’ work and find out about the University of Helsinki projects during the World Design Capital year,” says Leväaho. “We present different scientific and educational themes for two-week periods. These consist of newsflashes, exhibitions, meetings with researchers and presentations on a wide range of subjects.”
One of the challenges for the university was the tight schedule for renovating and setting up the premises for Think Corner, where a baby accessory shop operated up until January 2012. However, they were able to open their doors at the beginning of February as planned, and there has been a steady flow of visitors ever since.
An important aspect of the 2012 World Design Capital is the presentation of design from a broad perspective, including practical ways to make people’s lives better and to promote scientific research. The Think Corner forms a window into the university and its World Design Capital projects: green roofs to improve quality of life and sustainability; learning environments of tomorrow; new student housing solutions; and bio art, to name a few.
The Think Corner itself is designed to attract visitors, starting with the huge windows that let passers-by view the colourful, comfortable, street-level space where most of the activities take place. Once inside, they can take part in an ongoing presentation by listening or by joining the discussion. They can also see the latest exhibition, or enjoy refreshments at Ihana Kahvila (Wonderful Café). Rosebud Books runs the Think Corner bookshop, which offers a wide selection of publications corresponding with the university’s curriculum, not to mention genuine Helsinki clothing, bags, notebooks and other accessories.
Even though most of the action happens at street level, there is also the adjoining Container Gallery, which serves as an exhibition space, and the cellar houses Helthinki, a space for workshops, meetings and get-togethers.
The Think Corner’s programme covers a wide variety of topics, with something for everyone. Theme weeks include “Cultural diversity,” “Green thinking,” “The Baltic: Our mother sea,” “Meet the archaeologists,” “Religion and the urban space,” “Global climate change,” “Treasures of Africa,” “Mushrooms and lichen,” “Urban landscape of languages,” “Harvest week,” “Science adventures for children” and more.
The popularity of the Think Corner has exceeded the university’s expectations. Furthermore, it has received excellent feedback from Helsinki residents, interest groups, university faculty, students and tourists. Although the Think Corner is only officially open for the duration of the World Design Year, many visitors and users feel that the facility should remain open after 2012. “We’re also hoping it will continue,” says Leväaho.
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