Service Design, Cultural Innovation, and the City

Published on
July 20, 2018

Dash 2018 is held in Kattilahalli, located in an old industrial area in Helsinki called Suvilahti. 

Over the past ten years, Suvilahti has been developed step by step into an ever increasingly vibrant cultural centre, where large internationally recognized music and culture festivals such as Flow and Tuska are held, as well as smaller festivals, events, popups, and utopian trials. Kattilahalli (appx. “Pot hall”) is the largest indoor event space, and other characteristics of the area are the two gas holders, one made of steel and one made of tile, from the area’s time as a power plant.

Suvilahti is an example of using cultural innovation to insert life into an otherwise abandoned or condemned part of the city. While service design is still strengthening its foothold in the zeitgeist, at least in terms of terminology, the ideas and improvements of cities and public spaces using service design cannot be overstated. While it now seems obvious that Suvilahti was destined to be a cool and culturally dense venue, what was required was an idea and action.

Cultural innovation is a tremendous help in elevating a city’s brand. While for some cities, it seems like it pops up organically, it takes active citizens and design professionals to make things happen. The activation of one area often activated the surrounding neighbourhood and creates a chain reaction of ideas in other parts of the city as well. Helsinki has seen an effect of this for example in Vallila, where an old engineering works-area has been in partial cultural use for several years but has never been properly developed into new use. This is also partially true for Suvilahti, parts of which still need renovations. Teurastamo is a long-lasting redeveloped slaughterhouse area, another example of reuse and reclaim. The city, and its active citizens speak for the improvements for these types of areas, advocating rethinking instead of redeveloping, which an ever-increasing need for housing would demand. But what is a city without its lively cultural centres?

Service design fills the professional gap that is needed for the reimagining of cities, and will no doubt play a crucial role alongside city planners in creating new concepts when industry is being progressively more automated and moved outside cities, leaving industrial husks behind. Reimagining existing structures is in the end often more sustainable than complete redevelopment – of course requiring resources to make them safe and hygienic for new usage. The contemporary city needs design that respects the historic layers of the city, however without being afraid of bringing new life into places you never imagined could grow it.

Ellen Heikkilä

An architecture student interested in design theory and the big and small stories behind good design

DASH webmaster