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Dreams of Futures in Times of War
The never built lagoon park
During the dark days of the Finnish Civil War architect Carolus Lindberg used to walk up the slopes of Kaivopuisto Park every day to look out over the sea and into the distance. Possibly, he was searching for a ship’s smoke on the horizon - someone who could save the city and the country from what he called the “red times”.
The Russian Revolution had spilled over to newly independent Finland, and the radicalized Social Democratic Party and its paramilitary organizations had overthrown the government in an attempt to establish Communist rule. Civil war ensued in January 1918. Some of the senators and politicians managed to escape from Helsinki, but the capital city was now in the hands of the red rebels. And all Lindberg could do was take his walks and hope. As he looked to the horizon he visualized the future of a sovereign republic, and submerged in his thoughts his eyes dropped on the view that opened up below him along the shore…
“Clutter”, he complained in Arkitekten, as the war was coming to an end in May that same year, is “piling up on the city’s shores” preventing its residents from reaching the open sea on hot summer days. Helsinki, in Lindberg’s mind, was neglecting its beautiful maritime setting trapping everyone inside a “stony desert”. He continued:
None of our parks seek the shore, and should the horizon by chance be discernible from within the city the omniscient municipal hand and private enterprise make sure that this is instantly corrected so as not to give the good citizens too wide a view.
However, with the “changed political situation” a whole new world of possibilities opened up, and in Lindberg’s mind part of this change included improving the city. Thus, in that same article in Arkitekten he presented his vision for the cluttered view he had presided over during the war, namely the view over the still largely industrialized southern tip of the Helsinki peninsula: Merisatama (“sea harbour”).
What he proposed was a linking together of the islands just outside the shore creating a new “lagoon park” - a marina for “sailing yachts, motor- and rowing boats”. Parks and gardens would be created and new club houses, restaurants and public buildings established. A new “monumental square” can be seen where Kompassitori is today. Laivurinkatu Street was to be reimagined as a boulevard and extended out to the lagoon park in the shape of a drawbridge. Electric ferries would operate between the mainland and the marina. In the middle of it all on that small rocky island a monumental pillar completed the vision.
Lagoon Park 1918.
But it wasn’t to be. Instead of a pillar we now have a pizza restaurant, and although huge lawns and a seaside boulevard have since replaced the “clutter” there is no - despite the marina - lagoon park.
Lindberg’s plan reflects the hopes of a young republic. It evokes an almost ancient aesthetic - the idea of Alexandria and her famous port. And oddly this idea, which could not have escaped Lindberg’s perception, was the very same idea that occupied the minds of those who after the war of 1808-1809 sought to make Helsinki the capital city of the newly founded Grand Duchy. These were the Gustavians, who imagined a new city governed by enlightened empire. They considered the sea fortress of Viapori already an expression of the idea of an emerging new Alexandria. This was the name they had in mind for the city, uniting the ruler with the classical idea. Alas, after the Napoleonic wars the Holy Alliance reigned supreme and being the devout Christian he was emperor Alexander I rejected the idea. But I digress…
Perhaps Lindberg’s plan could be seen as the last time the idea of Alexandria - now in republican form - was formulated in and for the city of Helsinki. And a cool idea it was.