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Architectural Universe

The German philosopher Friedrich von Schelling once said, “Architecture in general is frozen music”. Nearly a 160 odd years later, if you visit Wastelands: The 17th European Architecture Assembly, currently being held in Helsinki, you’ll see architecture is like real music, too. Beautifully chaotic, with many genres and the ability to make you both laugh and cry. But what exactly is Wastelands all about and why should you care?

The “Woodstock of architecture”

Described by Finnish representative, Pekka Ijäs, as the “Woodstock of architecture”, the gathering shatters preconceptions about this much known but little understood occupation. Imagine five hundred architecture students, 60% girls, from more than fifty European countries all hanging out in an old electrical power station for two weeks, and you get some idea of the vibe. “The amount of wild ideas generated when all these people get together is amazing,” says organizer Janne Melajoki.

Architecture Students

By Alexandra Kononchenko

What is it?

It all started in 1981, when a group of Liverpool architecture students decided to try and expand their knowledge by inviting other students from around Europe to visit. They had no idea if anyone would accept. Hundreds turned up. Since then the event has grown beyond imagination. Now held annually, it attracts talent from all corners of the continent, and every year there’s a different theme. This year it’s wastelands.

Why Wastelands? 

In 2008, for the first time in human history, more people lived in cities than in the countryside. One way of alleviating the pressure these extra people put on cities is by making use of the industrial wastelands. A great example of this is Suvilahti, the decommissioned power plant currently hosting the event, now used for a variety of music festivals and urban events. Within this there are of two old gasometers and nine industrial buildings. During Wastelands, these are host to an incredible thirty-eight different workshops.

Industrial Wastelands

By Alexandra Kononchenko

Go workshop crazy

Check the list of options available and you’ll see why Wastelands blows away preconceptions about architecture. Burn, for example, shows participants how to use flames as a construction material. In Demolition, you’ll learn how to construct a building purely for the purpose of documenting its destruction. While Urban Acupuncture looks at how you can combine theories of Chinese medicine with urban design. Some of the workshops are practical, some theoretical. All of them expand the participants’ minds and the art of architecture.

Urban Design

By Alexandra Kononchenko

What’s the end result? 

But other than the mental sparks that fly, what are the practical consequences of this event? “Well, it encourages you to go and study abroad in places as diverse as Azerbaijan and Wales,” says Peka. “Plus, you have contacts in every country in Europe.” It’s obviously a brilliant way of networking, and there have been very concrete examples of this international co-operation. “During the event in Switzerland, we built some bridges,” says this year’s Wastelands documentary maker, Alex Maxwell. “In Ireland we built a sauna in someone’s back garden. And this year there was a competition to build a stage for the Flow Festival.”

Woodstock changed a generation. Wastelands might not have such an immediate impact. But with tomorrow’s architects all gathered here, you can be sure its impact will be felt far into the future, too.

What most amazes you about Wastelands or architecture in general? As ever, we’d love to hear your thoughts here or @Nokia_Connects