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Open Greenhouse

In collaboration with Minnamari Toukola, ongoing project. Started in the summer of 2012, located in Nilsiänkatu, Helsinki, Finland. 



The idea to build the greenhouse came almost out of the blue. We were sitting in a pub called Magneetti and barely knew each another, when I asked Minnamari: “Should we build a greenhouse together?” Her reply was fast: “Yes! I already have the windows for it!”


We set to work in spring 2012 in a wasteland called Seppo Renvall’s park. Officially it’s called Nokia Park, but according to rumours, a ”Seppo Renvall’s park” sign was put up on a fence on Seppos honor in a name-day party organized there. The sign has chanced the name of the park so that people are calling it, and even Google maps recognized it for a while by its nickname. The park was selected as our location because of it’s uncared nature. The space offered a clean slate for our ideas and thoughts to run their ways, and also gave inspiration for the building which is when the shape and content of the greenhouse were formed. What started off as a two-week “gig” turned into a five-year project and beside of the greenhouse rose a lasting friendship whose foundation were dug upon blasted rubble. Laying the foundations was a near-impossible task, but that’s what made it so much fun; the ground was so rocky that our spades barely sank deeper than a centimetre. We ended up gathering the rocks by hand and lifting them aside with our spades.  As a result there was a several cubic metres of piled rubble and a perfect square in the middle of the overgrown park.


The building process has been as interesting and important as the completed work. Hunting for the materials has had an important role in the process as we have tried to use recycled materials and keep our budget as modest as possible. First thing that got up was a timber frame for the windows, then a four-sided hipped roof with a strange beam configuration. The working has been millimetre-perfect, but somehow the timber as an organic material seemed to have a mind of its own. Even so the co-operation with the two-by-twos has usually been seamless, even if sometimes a part of timber a has been cut off as much with a sheer strength of will as with an iron saw. Many times the days streched and we were carrying rocks and timber through the streets long after midnight in preparation for the following day. Walking those journeys through the streets in the still of the night have been athmosteric and subtle. After a long day, our tired bodies moved automatically to the greenhouse and home, and our minds were contented.


From the very start, we were keen to see how people would respond to the space and what would happen when we offered it up for communal use. It was intriguing how most people regarded its outlaw status as a positive thing; the people using the park gave their silent blessing to our greenhouse and our act. Some wanted to know why we had built it, others instantly made it their own without asking too many questions. In addition to offering a place for growing plants, the greenhouse has been used as a place to sleep and hide, and as an oasis where people can stop and enjoy life.


In 2016 the City of Helsinki began clearing the area to make way for a new dog park. Unbeknownst to us, the greenhouse was initially marked for demolition, and then later for relocation. After some people we never knew rose up to defend the greenhouse, the city authorities decided to incorporate it in the new plan. It was moved from the northwestern corner to Nilsiänkatu Street side, and the foundations were re-laid. It was amusing to see the 12 m2 building floating above the lorry as it was lifted into place and it rose a laugh.


The greenhouse takes a stance on people’s freedom to reinvent their environment, but also on the spontaneous way that cities should be allowed to take shape. People need more power to influence their habitats, and it’s equally important that there are urban environments where people can be free to unleash their creativity. Wastelands are perfect, because no one has a premeditated idea of how the result should look or how passers-by should use the space. Excessive planning kills creativity. We sought to create a place that inspires people to do whatever they want: we wanted to create a shape-shifting site that changes with every new occupant. Our greenhouse is an open house for growing plants and culture – and everyone within our possibilities are invited.

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