HARRI TASKINEN – WHO?
I’ve been asked to tell something about myself, my current job, and why I work as a Säynätsalo Town Hall Operator – as I was called to in some social media post.
I was born in Kitee, North Karelia, studied in Helsinki as a classroom teacher – but without graduating – and worked in the Helsinki metropolitan area for a long time as a teacher, textbook editor, educator, CEO, project manager, and entrepreneur.
I moved to Säynätsalo at the end of 2015 and left my paid job in Helsinki. After years, I reactivated my business name and started working remotely: project management, book layouts, textbook sales, editorial work, etc. At that time, the Town Hall was completely closed and as I explored the island, I wondered about the fate of the building and the tourists walking around it – outside. At the same time, the media wrote about how such a valuable building might have kept the doors tangled and unused! I openly asked the city about the use of the building and the possibility of getting a small workspace for myself. I may have passed some formalities and in a hurry, I certainly did not use much of the finished potential that could have been found on the islands.
Through various discussions and reflections, short-term contracts, even tendering, it was decided that I was an entrepreneur at the Town Hall and activate it in all possible ways. Of course, I also got the workspace I originally went to ask about.
At the turn of the year 2017–18, we established a new company, Tavolo Bianco Oy. Heli Leinonkoski became my partner, who for a long time had taken care of the fate of the Town Hall in the administration of the Jyväskylä city. Heli served as the chairperson of the company's board and did not work in the operational daily life of Tavolo Bianco. Today, Tavolo Bianco is responsible for the operations of the Town Hall. Heli gave up her ownership at the end of 2020 and I currently own the company entirely. The excellent café-bakery AaBakery, which opened in summer 2018, is still leased to Hannele Aapakari-Keinonen.
We guide individual visitors and groups in Finnish and English. If necessary, we also greet you in Swedish, German, Japanese, Spanish, and Italian. Our guidance has been intentionally considered as a discussion guide. We tell stories, evoke thoughts, and listen to visitors. We will pass on what we have heard. We try to keep the thing this accurate, but we add speech often: "my knowledge, I've heard, this is multiplied, it is possible, in those days ..." The walk includes a presentation of the building specific features, the guidance of the history of Aalto's 50's design style, parables with other Aalto's buildings, Säynätsalo, moods indirect with light depending on the time of day, presentation and clarification of building materials in different languages, presentation of Central Finland, description of Lake Päijänne in summer and winter, history and present of Artek – not forgetting the story of Legér's painting and mystical empty hinge in the wall…. And so on. Sometimes the guidance lasts longer than the promised half-hour.
After the tour, visitors can take a walk on the premises on their own for as long as they want: to sit and mood, take photos, draw and sketch – especially for this opportunity many visitors from far away still praise when they leave.
2018 ... 6982 (of which foreign 44.7%)
2019 ... 6374 (of which foreign 41.1%)
2020 ... 2749 (of which foreign 8.7%)
In 2019, the largest number of visitors came from Finland, Germany, Spain, Japan, France, the United States, China, and Italy (of which more than 100 visitors). In total, visitors came from 64 different countries.
Information point and exhibitions
In the summer of 2017, the Town Hall had a summer café. With the opening of the new café, space has become an info point and a design shop. The two adjoining office rooms have space for exhibitions and meeting workshops. These spaces can usually be popped up at any time without admission (some special exhibitions may be subject to a fee). One of Alvar Aalto's central ideas in the building was that it must be easily accessible and made for ordinary residents of the municipality: democratic architecture. However, from the point of view of our business, we have limited free access to the above areas. Access to the gallery, meeting room and council chamber is subject to an entrance fee, which includes the guide described above or a video guide completed in the summer of 2019. The showrooms will be in other use from 2021 to 2023 (see section "Years 2021-2023").
During the summer of 2017, it also turned out that the apartments I decorated in Town Hall – Hugo and Henrik – quickly became necessary. The booking situation was good at the turn of July-August, but of course, it must be taken into account that in winter the number of visitors and the need to stay overnight decreased to a very small extent. The apartments have accommodated e.g. ordinary tourists, architects, students, workers, rally tourists, and wedding guests. It was then when the idea came up with the conversation with Heli that apartments could also serve as residences for students and researchers. The idea began to sound good and could lead to profitable business even in quiet times. We also got one more accommodation apartment – Nemo – which in the spring of 2019 we decorated as a cheaper bunk bed apartment for 6 people. The original guest rooms Alvari and Elissa are also at our use and especially popular with solo architects, although they are very modest in their equipment. But the view faces the courtyard and the fountain rustles comfortably on a summer night.
After the autumn of 2018, the residence will have visits from eight guests of the residence for periods of 1 to 2 months, as well as an architect who will take a few longer sabbaticals.
We also rent meeting rooms: the council chamber and the municipal boardroom are designed for speeches and discussions, but the acoustics of the council hall, for example, would also seem to work for song performances, not necessarily for instrumental music.
Since the opening of the café, catering services have also been obtained from our own house and meetings, birthdays, commemorations and events have been organized more and more. Locals have also once again found opportunities to celebrate and stay in the building.
Our company also has limited tour operator rights, so we can arrange group tours to Aalto destinations near and further away. In the winter of 2019, Heli organized the first “In the Footsteps of Alvar Aalto in Italy” trip with our Italian friend Luca Plazzi, and the following year, just before the COVID-19 pandemic, the “Veneto of Art and Architecture” trip.
1.3.2021-31.7.2023. in practice for almost three years, when the Alvar Aalto Museum is under renovation, some of the museum's staff receive evacuation offices from the Town Hall building. Harri has moved his own office to the other side of the piazza. Guidance responsibilities will be shared, but the accommodation business will remain under the control of Tavolo Bianco. The aim is to increase guidance and improve quality at both Town Hall and Muuratsalo Experimental House. In terms of marketing, Town Hall will become part of the Alvar Aalto Museum's museum complex, as it will probably remain after the end of the evacuation period.
Important for the future are the UNESCO World Heritage and Biosphere Projects. During the three years, the intention is to refine and raise the level of service and to think about everything that can be offered to the increasing tourist flows in Tahiti of Lake Päijänne, as long as the progress and success of the projects are clear.
In February 2021, Tavolo Bianco Oy / Säynätsalo Town Hall has taken its first step on its sustainable tourism development path by making a decision to apply for the Visit Finland Sustainable Travel Finland program. The company aims to achieve the Sustainable Travel Finland brand by 2022. We believe that the development of tourism will be more sustainable for the benefit of our destination and the visitors who come here in terms of their comfort and well-being. We value and cherish our beautiful archipelago nature and the heritage of Alvar Aalto, the interests of the area's residents, and the well-being of tourists arriving in the area.
Tourists are approached with the message: "Regardless of your profession, education, experience or what stage of your life you are in, what mobility you have or who you love, you are always safe and welcome to visit Säynätsalo Town Hall."
Tavolo Bianco Oy is now developing its tourism services strongly and responsibly in order to promote tourism, attractiveness, and vitality in the region.
Image: Tilapalvelu © Jiri Halttunen