Snowball Helsinki Shanghai 2010 is a promotional effort carried out in in February-March 2010, organized by the Finnish Association of Architects SAFA as part of Finland's cultural program for Shanghai World Expo. The program's mission is to bring together Finnish and Chinese architects and to create synergies leading to joint projects.
Because China is going through the fastest transformation from an agrarian to urban society ever seen in history, the Chinese architectural market represents an area of great growth potential. The country's urban population, which was estimated at 572 million in 2005, could hit the one billion mark by 2030. This pace of growth would translate into 50 to 100 new cities with populations of over one million, and into 20,000 to 50,000 new skyscrapers in the next two decades. There is demand in China for international firms and skills in specialized sectors such as airports, retail and cultural buildings.
The presentations at the Shanghai seminar highlighted the specifics and nature of architectural practices in China. The presenters included PES - Architects, a Finnish firm based in both Helsinki and Shanghai which has designed more than 30 projects in China including the Wux opera house, airport terminals, hotels and shopping centres. Another presenter was JKMM, a Helsinki firm which has designed Finland’s Shanghai World Expo 2010 pavilion.
Architect Janne Pihlajaniemi presented findings of a study on Finnish architectural export. According to this study, export has not been a major activity among Finnish firms, with only 15% of firms engaging in international activities. Finnish firms display many strengths, but lack of resources is generally their greatest challenge in export. Younger firms in particular have expressed interest in going abroad.
Event organizer, architect Tuomas Toivonen says that there is a great deal of competence among Finnish architectural practitioners but no international stars. “The situation is now changing,” he says, “and some of the new generation firms have the potential to rise to the top if given the opportunity. They will, however, need interesting, international assignments, which can be offered by China.”
The Shanghai edition of Snowball next month will be joined by a dozen Finnish architectural firms, many of them with prior engagement in China. A key purpose is to create the right type of contacts between them and potential Chinese partners. “In China, it’s an absolute necessity to collaborate with local partners and to find the right people to work with,” Toivonen says.