“Now I’ve screwed up, I thought. I’ve brought a far too American fuss to the table and it doesn’t belong here. Some eyebrows were being raised,” Kirsti Lehmusto, member of the Saari Residence’s advisory board shakes her head, amused. A story from 2007 is being told, when the residence had been torn to pieces in the midst of a renovation. The executive committee had convened at the residence to discuss its essence and Lehmusto was seriously jet-lagged.
Just moments before, she had flown over to Finland on a plane from Boston after her visit at MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Currently working as the Director of Communications at the University of Helsinki, Lehmusto had long dreamt of the visit due to her fascination with MIT’s cooperative and interdisciplinary ideology.
When the advisory board’s conversation had been repeating what a lovely place the residence would be to retreat to for long enough, Lehmusto couldn’t contain herself anymore.
“ ‘Can I tell you what I’ve just seen and how I’ve been enlightened?’ I blurted out. Then I told them about MIT, how walls have been replaced with windows there, how people share their thoughts and collaborate, and researchers have room to play with flamethrowers.”
Constrictions do not breed novelty
With flamethrowers, Lehmusto is referring to freedom. She speaks a lot about the codelessness of spaces, meaning the lifting of unnecessary restrictions. When the use of a space is not restricted, thoughts are allowed to run free. Freedom gives birth to unbelievable things. Her favourite example of a codeless space is MIT’s Building 20, a large warehouse where nine Nobel Prize winning researchers have worked. During World War II, Rad Lab operated in the warehouse and later on other researchers and students adopted the space for their experiments. In the warehouse, it was possible to do anything at all.
“The freedom to think while sitting on a crate of beer is the thing. That’s what codelesness is,” says Lehmusto.
Lehmusto is interested in the new and unusual. She seeks out promising Chinese writers instead of reading bestsellers and is crazy about future scenarios. It is no wonder that she is able to latch on to new trends while others still hesitate.
At first, Lehmusto’s ideas of an American style implementation of a codeless space that produces encounters did not spark much of an interest in other advisory board members. Until someone uttered the magic word: “the well”.
“We were again considering whether the residence was a place of retreat. Somehow we ended up at how the culture of sharing has always been a big part of life. Someone took wells as an example; how people have gathered around them while getting water to teach how to braid hair, for example, and to contemplate the communal affairs of a village community.”
Encounters can be created
The well resonated with the Finnish character as a way to discuss communal thinking, and the idea of The Well concept of the Saari Residence was born. Meaning the idea that a place exists where people gather to both get new ideas and give them forward. And of the residence being able to gently support its guests in encounters, not forcibly, but for example through shared events and by offering different spaces for encounters.
The influence of the residence also stretches further than its courtyard. Its residents bring life to the surrounding village of Mynämäki.
“Sometimes slightly strange looking fellows cycle down the village road, but they bring joy and new kinds of thoughts there,” Lehmusto warmly recounts of the residents.
Lehmusto is glad that the Saari Residence has transformed into a meeting place. She believes that it would have happened eventually, even if she had not put the original idea forward.
“The residents know that they have permission to share and experiment. That no one will force them to just finish their own book project.”
Lehmusto concludes by returning to one more anecdote about MIT. The lesson of the story is that you can always try to create meeting places, but they also come into being on their own. And usually chance encounters are the most intriguing ones.
“One year at MIT, they had studied where the most creative encounters happen. The answer was the pizza stand at the parking lot.”
Encounters arise when… codes break.
Encounters do not arise when… there are too many expectations and shields.
The most significant encounter of my life… the MIT Media Lab. So many things fell into place there. Over there, things seem to flow easily and unambiguously.
Economist Kirsti ”Kikka” Lehmusto. Works as the Director of Communications at the University of Helsinki. Among other things, she has previously worked as the Marketing Director of Seppälä and the Academic Bookstore. Member of the executive committee of the Saari Residence since 2007.
Two adult daughters.
Loves literature, yoga and winding down by the sea. One of her favourite places is the Academic Bookstore, which she describes as a state of mind.