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Art in our environment

Art has a significant position in a built environment. It is pleasing, surprising and entertaining. Environmental art will create an identity for new areas and even prevent graffiti.

“There is a positive attitude towards environmental art. It is not necessarily known how it should be acquired in practice,” says Leading Advisor Ulla-Kirsi Junttila, who is an industrial designer and Licentiate of Arts, and who has worked in Sito’s urban planning department for a decade on environmental art projects.

Last spring, a working group led by Ulla-Kirsti Junttila published a Rakennustieto card on art in a construction project (Taide rakennushankkeessa) that introduces all parties to linking art to a construction process from project design to the completion of the project while taking the acquisition and financing methods also into account. Representatives of construction companies, municipalities and the government, and artist associations were involved in the preparation of the Rakennustieto card.

One per cent for art

A good example of the importance of environmental art in creating an identity of a built environment is Arabianranta in Helsinki where the so-called per cent principle was first applied in a residential area. “The residents in Arabianranta are proud of their area and its art,” says Ulla-Kirsti Junttila.

The per cent for art principle means an objective to invest one per cent of the price of a construction project into artwork. The starting point was for art to be acquired particularly for public sites. However, in Arabianranta the city of Helsinki obliged the construction developers to acquire art.

Involved already in initial planning

After experiences from Arabianranta, the importance of art for creating the individuality of new areas is currently well understood according to Ulla-Kirsti Junttila. The goal is to initiate a dialogue between an artist, an architect and a landscape designer, for example, at a very early stage in the design. That way, art can be an organic part of the design of the whole building and its surroundings, and an artwork can be integrated into the architecture. The Rakennustieto card on art in a construction project offers guidance at the very beginning of a process, and there is clear advantage of using an art coordinator and of close cooperation between the parties.  “An artist may require guidance from constructors on issues related to the bearing capacity of structures, wind load, or frost resistance, for example.” Cooperation is important and it enriches all parties.

Ulla-Kirsti Junttila is also an active artist herself. Her sophisticated and sensitive idiom is visible, for example, in Kristallimaja (Crystal Gazebo), which is located along the coastal route in Espoo at the site of a demolished pier. The fragile-looking steel structure is an artwork that can withstand time and weather conditions, and changes from a gazebo that reflects sunlight through its crystal into a mysterious nesting place for moonlight. One can spend a long time admiring Kristallimaja comfortably on a bench that is fortunately placed close by on the coast. The bench has a function as a part of the artwork, but usually, the significance of art in a built environment is more symbolic and aesthetic according to Ulla-Kirsti Junttila. “Art increases the cosiness of an environment. It makes us feel and think.”

Text: Dakota Lavento