An entrepreneurial countryside?

Imagining competitive futures in the architectural contests of Finland's periphery



Urban competitiveness, periphery, architectural competition, evaluation


Architecture and urban design are central selling points in globalized models of urban development, advocated by city strategies to boost competitiveness. In particular, architectural competitions are frequently leveraged as a tool for public engagement and design innovation in complex urban projects. While competitiveness has been framed as an apparent quality of successful cities, the mobilization of spatial design in the pursuit of competitive advantage is not limited to metropolitan sites. Even provincial towns and declining municipalities engage in design competitions to improve their status. Nevertheless, the competitive aspirations of these peripheries have rarely received scholarly attention. Examining documents from recent architectural competitions in the stagnant and declining regions of Finland, this study explored how peripheral localities approached architecture and urban design in pursuing their urban aspirations. The analysis of competition documents focused on the ideas and meanings of competitiveness evoked in the competition briefs, architectural proposals, as well as the juries’ evaluations, with a particular focus on the winning projects. Rather than innovative designs or iconic buildings, the peripheral design competitions conveyed more subtle development aspirations. Moreover, contradictions emerged between the mainstream solutions put forward by participating architects and juries’ ideas of what was appropriate in the design context. The emphasis on modest improvements rather than growth points towards alternative imaginations of urban futures. The findings offer a distinct contribution to the ongoing debates on urban competitiveness and the role of design by reinserting the periphery into the picture. The outcomes invite further inquiries on design strategies beyond the hegemonic models and sites of urban production.


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