Playful Architecture

The city is a complex work of art for the urban context blends architecture, landscape and the day-to-day activities of its inhabitants into a monumental project. See it as a performance work or an immersive environmental installation. Partake of its rhythms or multifariousness: the inherent repetition of daily routines and the random acts that can drastically modify these predictable progressions.

Proof that the city is a work of art resides in the hands of photographers that unearth the previously unrecognised beauty of its humdrum locations or capture the unprecedented events that galvanise people’s attention. It is also revealed in panoramic views witnessed from a shoreline or viewing points high above ground level. It can take on the character of an elaborate sculptural arrangement or a marvellous tapestry that occupies acres.

Sometimes that proof derives from some unexpected occurrence, such as the light during particular weather conditions or the detection of previously unnoticed entity at the periphery of one’s field of perception.

Kampin Helmi

The latter happened to me on a recent bike ride through town. Suddenly I became aware of this a massive gabled structure out of the corner of my eye. It was very much unlike the flat decks topping most apartment blocks and though I had often travelled this route, its presence had obviously escaped me each and every time.2

When I approached the building, though, the illusion quickly began to dissolve. The left and right halves of that facade seemed to slide against each other. As the right side grew taller, the height of the left one shrunk.


It didn’t take long and the two halves came fully apart. The structure actually consists of two towers. Seeing how the forms and the relationship between them continued to change as I moved past them proved to a engrossing experience.


By the time I had nearly reached the opposite end, that initial illusion had been firmly destroyed. In its place a had new understanding of the building’s shape and scale, as well as its potential for animating space. I couldn’t help but think of it as playful architecture.


This feature extends to other elements, like the window openings pictured in the final photo. Notice how two sides of each window frame are bevelled, which suggests a perspectival kind of space. Moreover, the locations of those bevels isn’t consistent. They flip back and forth. Some are on the left side of the window glass; others are on the right. The illusion they create is in how the windows appear to open to the street. It’s definitely not in the same direction. Moreover, the panes of glass also appear to zigzag up and down the wall. Just follow one row of windows from top to bottom, or vice versa, to see how they shift.

The project – Kampin Helmi – is a seniors’ residence in the Kamppi area of Helsinki. The moderate sense of fun it contributes to the area in which it stands is a most welcome feature.


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