[A for those of you who got this week's email alert--make that 'City', I'm not the best proof reader...]

Helsinki has been much on my mind lately and in a way that is not unlike time spent wondering what an old flame’s up to these days. It’s a city that has lived in my imagination for a very long time--long enough, in fact, to have its own little rotating carousel of mental images.  Merrimekko’s crazy, crayon-red poppies.  Alvar Aalto’s Savoy vase. Iittala’s Teema dishware. Gravlax on rye with a sprig of dill.  Cloudberry cakes.  Saunas.  Summer solstice parties. Blond and gorgeous wood.  Blond and gorgeous people. The midnight sun.  And a particularly lovely image mentioned by a friend whose mother was Finnish--candles placed in the snow at 3:00 p.m. on an already dark Christmas Day. This one has stuck with me for a very long time now with its power to make the darkness of mid-winter sound as warm and magical as that of those endless Finnish summer days.
Both traditional and modern, invitingly cozy and yet earthily elegant in their simplicity, all these images have that certain something so often to be found in the Finnish aesthetic…natural materials, sleekly simple forms, a relationship to the out of doors…
Lately though Helsinki has begun to strike me as being more contemporary than traditional and/or modern.
Guggenheim Helsinki Finalist: GH-121371443. (Submissions were submitted and remain anonymous) (Photo credit: Malcolm Reading Consultants)
The Helsinki Guggenheim project may be the most obvious—some might say flashy and still others might say suspect—evidence of a city determined to join the international cultural conversation in a new and bold way.  This on again/off again project is not without controversy but for now at least it is on again.  In December 2014,  the 6 competition finalists for the building design were announced.  The ultimate winner of the architectural competition is to be announced in June, 2015.  There is a chance even then that the building will not be built.  The Helsinki City Council has reserved its final decision over its portion of the funding until after the competition winner is chosen.  Even if there are never bricks and mortar, though, the ambition that has fueled this six-year battle to bring the Guggenheim to Helsinki is impressive and seems to indicate a city interested in re-positioning itself as cultural hub. 
Fish, stick and rock, the New Nordic brings new meaning to 'locally sourced' (Photo Credit: The Washington Post)
 While the fate of Helsinki's Guggenheim project remains uncertain, the city is already very much a major player on another contemporary front--the New Nordic food movement.  Sadly the 2 Michelin starred Chez Dominique has now closed—for the very simple reason that the chef/owner Hans Välimäki said he was ready for something new--but the food scene is still crowded with excellence and innovation.  There are currently six restaurants with one Michelin star: AskDemo, Luomo, Olo, Pompier and The Chef and The Sommelier; each with their own unique take on the New Nordic.
Kamppi Chapel (Photo credit: The Inspirationalist)
While a bit harder to define, Helsinki’s collaborative approach to civic life feels just as 'of the moment'.  Take, for example, the sensitive fusion to be found in the Kamppi Chapel, a joint project between the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland and the Social Services Department of the City of Helsinki.  It functions both as an ecumenical and a secular space with representatives of the church and the city in attendance and 'available for conversation' as it says on the chapel's website. This could have gone so wrong but instead it is considered a rousing success by any measure including the fact that it recently had its 500,000th visitor a scant two years after completion.
Even in this moment of change however there still one constant to be found in Helsinki, providing the city with a throughline running from traditional to modern to contemporary and that constant continues to be visual design. No doubt the depth of this aesthetic tradition informs and directs not only the present but what lies ahead in the future for this most appealing of cities. As the New York Times recently noted of Helsinki--
'Aesthetics fuel a new cool' ...
Seems to me the NYT got it just about right.

BTW, for 2 interesting and contrasting views on the value of
Guggenheim Helsinki project check out these links

Richard Armstrong Interview in De Zeen
Michael Sorkin Interview in ArchDaily