Interview on October 16, 2010

Hi Hella! How are you?

- Hi! I’m fine, thank you. I’ve just moved to a new multidisciplinary working space we founded with my collegues in the district of Helsinki called Jätkäsaari, in a building designed by the Finnish architect Lars Sonck. In the building, situated in the area of the old harbour, there is a great atmosphere, and we hope we can organize there more cultural activities.

Tell us something about yourself.

– I’m from Tampere, and as a child and teenager I used to live there in the old industrial district of Pispala. Nowadays I live in Helsinki. I graduated as an architect from the Aalto University a couple of years ago, and I’ve studied architecture also in the Netherlands. In the past I’ve studied also biology, but then I turned to architecture because it combines many things I’m interested in: art, science and social thinking.

The Bol lamp range: Raindrop, Snowball and Broken Bol

What do you do in your free time?

– One of my favourite activities is taking part in a women’s craft and hobby group, a modern version of the traditional embroidery groups. I cycle a lot, swim and read detective stories and all kind of literature on world improvement. I dream of spending more time at a summer cottage or sailing.

You designed the Bol lamps, which are now available from Finnish Design Shop. Where did you get the inspiration for the lamps?

– I got the inspiration when I was trying how old tablecloths, curtains and laces would look combined with light. I found interesting in particular the soft light rich in atmosphere which comes from the combination of fabrics of different textures.

Written on the Wind clothing collection made of vintage fabrics.

Bol is made of recycled fabrics. Where do you find the materials?

– After looking for a long time, I found a company near Lahti which has a lot of white cotton mix fabric left-overs, that are in good conditions. Moreover, in the lamps there are always details from other fabrics which I collect from flee markets. Customers can also bring their own fabrics to use for the lamps’ details. Old materials are great because of their imperfections and details which give uniqueness and stories to a product which otherwise would be simple. I believe that materials which have already been used one or more times are better quality than many new materials that nowadays are manufactured with poor quality and in a cheap way.

I remember I saw the Bol lamp already at the Helsinki Design Week in 2007. Is the actual product different from those first models?

– There were many changes in the lamps, and not all of them are even visible. Almost the whole production technique, the mould I use and the bond material have changed and improved. The most visible change is the new textile cord and the graphical look it is made of. Moreover the Bol lamps are now available in three different models and sizes – and a fourth model is being designed.

Bol lamps in the Finland Pavillion Kirnu at the Shanghai World EXPO 2010. Photograph: Lucas Schifres

Bol is exhibited at the Shanghai World EXPO 2010 at the Finland Pavilion Kirnu. Congratulations! The Finland Pavilion recently set a record of 5 million visitors. What does this visibility mean for a designer?

– Taking part in a world expo is of course a unique opportunity. It was a big surprise when I was called from JKMM Architects and I was asked to send twenty Bol lamps to China for the decoration of the VIP sauna lounge. I don’t mean to conquer the Chinese markets, but for a small creator like me the most important aspect is certainly visibility, new contacts and hopefully also credibility.

You talk a lot about the term upcycling. Can you tell us more about it?

–Upcycling means to turn old materials into a new form which is more valuable. In my work I’m interested in developing the upcycling thinking whether it is about an object, a space or the city. As far as the Bol lamps, the upcycling thinking is clearly visible.

A scenario for temporary use of the old central railway tunnel in Helsinki with Aino Aspiala and Sanna Meriläinen.

An example of upcycling could be the pieces of furniture made from left-over wood by the Dutch Piet Hein Eek. Do you have a model or a favourite designer?

– Piet Hein Eek is definitely one of my favourite. Also the architecture made of cardboard tubes by the Japanese architect Shigeru Ban or the houses by the French Lacaton&Vassal in which prefab industrial greenhouses are incorporated and converted into living spaces are good examples of an interesting design attitude. My friends DUS architects from Amsterdam make architecture that has a social significance. I admire designers who have an unconventional and strong attitude and who question the predominant conventions.

When do you get the best ideas?

–Usually when I leave my desk. Often while I’m cycling or washing the dishes, and at best when I’m in good company.

How important is it for you as a designer the eco-friendliness of the products?

– Very important. In my opinion the social responsibility and eco-friendliness should be fundamental requirements when making products and not something special. There is still a lot to do to make products more durable. First of all eco-friendliness means quality and long life to me, which means abandoning the disposable products’ consumption. I hope that in the future designers will be able to offer in this regard inspiring examples to end users and to benefit of their know-how more and more also outside the traditional product design.

The website Urban Dream Management is devoted to sharing ideas of (con)temporary urban phenomena.

What are your projects for the rest of the year?

– At the moment I’m working on the Urban Dream Management project, which involves the creative use of urban spaces. In relation to this project I’m planning a trip to New York, where I will stay for one month next spring. Beside this I’m teaching at the Aalto University, in a course whose theme is spontaneous city. And I spend my time also developing and making the Bol lamps.

Text: Mikko Vaija