HOAS Pasila, located in Central Helsinki, provides a home for 250 foreign students. The residents are mostly European exchange students who come to study at one of the higher education institutions surrounding Helsinki. For many of them the building is their first home as well as their first taste to Finland.
The building is a 1970’s architectural gem, which was falling into disrepair. The lack of feeling of ownership led to some problems – like misuse of the building and its facilities. Our challenge was to make this building feel like home.
With a little colorful chalkboard paint and some bold typography we made the interiors part of the architecture and a vibrant space for living. We painted the hallways from floor to ceiling, turning them into chalkboards, instead of forbidding writing on the walls, we began promoting it.
As a result the building became an interactive participant in the student community: “talking” to its residents, encouraging them to get to know each other and do things together, creating a unique environment they could call their own.
HOAS Pasila is a unique place in Helsinki in many ways. The house is inhabited by people from all over the world, but they live in the house only for 4 to 10 months. Residents do not have time to form an emotional bond with the house.
We have had first-hand experience of what it is like to arrive in a new country and new environment. As a student in a foreign country you have to share your daily life with strangers.
We found that most of the student houses do not support any way of communication between people, or encourage people to do things with each other. Most houses had only a bulletin board in the lobby where, from time to time, someone may have defaced with graffiti or written something funny.
We tried to find two kinds of solutions during the project:
- Solutions for the communication problem.
- Solutions for the physical conditions of the building.
We wanted to come up with design solutions that would take advantage of human behaviour and enhance residents’ participation, commitment and ownership of the building. Our aim was to create a the feeling of a home, new and effective communication channels between the residents and better living environment in the building.
The interactive walls are used daily by the residents. Since they have been authorized to “mess up” the wall surfaces, the house is constantly renewed by the active participation of the residents. Wall surfaces were a previously unused resource that house residents will now be able to be use every day to communicate more effectively.
The wall graphics ask residents to share tips for the local area, their favorite restaurants and favourite places in Helsinki, organize events, study the Finnish language together, and play a variety of games that can be found in several places on the wall. You’ll also find two massive maps of the Helsinki Region, where it is possible to write tips and itineraries.
Interactive walls made it possible to boost national pride and playful battles between the different nationalities. The Italian residents challenged the Spanish, and the Chinese found each other. Some of the residents organized a drawing competition. Some of the residents began to write on the walls of naughty Finnish words. Some began to draw particular things on the walls of what would be inappropriate to draw. But it’s all about human nature: everything would be allowed in this building from now on.
An analog approach was the only viable way to implement the project. We did not even consider digital alternatives. Everybody knows how to handle chalk sticks, so what we needed to do was to create an “interface” in the building.
The chalkboard paints usually come in two colors: black and green. The blackboard is often associated with elementary school. Colourful paints did not exist so we had to create it by mixing colorful latex paint with mortar joints, to make a perfect surface for to draw on.
We painted the graphics with stencils, to achieve the best results, to make the walls easy to read, clean and long-lasting.