This past 8 March we were treated to a visit from the newly elected Vice President of our member the Finnish Association of Designers Ornamo. We took the opportunity to sit down with Päivi Tahkokallio and discuss the many projects in which she is involved, including Nordicité 2016, the project that brought her to Montreal.
Q: Rovaniemi, Finland is the capital of Lapland, sitting on the Arctic Circle. The population is approximately 60 000, and the average high in January is -8 Celsius. Why did you decide to move there nearly eight years ago?
I get this question quite often. My husband, who grew up in Lapland, was offered an interesting work opportunity there, which he decided to say yes to, and so we moved to the Arctic Circle. I had to figure out what I was going to do there, so I set up my company at the time.
Q: How would you define ‘arctic design’?
Well, there are many ways to define arctic design, but the way I prefer to define it is that arctic design is design for the extreme. Conditions in the Arctic are very challenging, and they are challenging in many ways. From extreme weather conditions to very sparsely populated areas, from lack of infrastructure or poor infrastructure to challenges related to the coexistence of indigenous people and mainstream cultures… it’s also a very fragile, sensitive natural environment. So in a way, the Arctic region is a good laboratory for design practices.
From the Arctic’s point of view, conditions are so challenging that to be able to develop in a sustainable manner, you need all the help you can get. And design is a good help! It also provides a good opportunity to test design methods, even new design methods, from service design to strategic design, approaches that are more interdisciplinary.
Arctic design requires that you know a lot about the conditions, that you do your homework well, and that is not limited to the Arctic. It’s relevant wherever you have challenging conditions. In those cases, the approach of arctic design can be applied.
Q: Since 2013 you’ve served as Chair of the Committee on Design at the Lapland Chamber of Commerce and have played a role in shaping Finland’s Arctic Policy. Why is design so important for Arctic regions in your opinion?
Design practice in general is changing. It has already changed, but it’s still changing. In my opinion we are moving from traditional design practices—industrial design included—towards a more interdisciplinary approach, towards a more strategic approach to design. This kind of shift works well in the Arctic because the challenges we face here are big global challenges. You can’t tackle them without a strategic approach, without an interdisciplinary approach.
One single designer in the Arctic is not of much use. You really need the interdisciplinary teams and you need a level of strategy.