Exploring Kalasatama & Trying Out Xbox Kinect

October 2, 2010 · Posted in Gaming, Tech & Gadgetry, Urban Exploration 

When I’m feeling stressed out, annoyed, insomniac and generally not centered or not like myself, there are a few activities that really help: a weekend at the cabin, an urban exploration / geocaching trip and diving. After a good afternoon or a weekend of those, coming back home feels like I’d been away for a week.

I’ve had a couple of weeks that have been kind of paradoxical: I’ve been both happy but at the same time massively annoyed. This has lead to stuff like spending insomniac nights watching Chernobyl documentaries, since I can’t seem to get my head out of that place (in a good way). Last weekend I managed to dent the bad vibes by a surprisingly interesting urban exploration trip.

(Want to see more photos? Check out the Flickr Photoset here)

Exploring Kalasatama

Some purists consider UE to be “real” only if you check out abandoned buildings or factories, or infiltrate a place where you are not supposed to be, like metro tunnels or such. I call shenanigans and bullshit on that. For me it’s enough to find a place where people mostly don’t stray into: something people walk past, over or around without really seeing it, some beautiful unspace. Or, maybe, just go and find something you haven’t seen before, some weird yard, park or other nook between buildings somewhere.

Last year I went to check out a large freight harbour that was being torn down, and my idea last Saturday was to go and check what was happening in there nowadays. Turns out I was in for a positive surprise. The area is called Kalasatama, “the fish harbour”, and it’s the site for one of the biggest urban renovations that has hit Helsinki in a century. They tore down the dock and soon they will start filling the area with both offices and residential buildings. What was a huge surprise for me was that the area wasn’t closed for the public, but instead the city had done the most sensible thing they could, which was to declare the site a public recreational area. Moreover, they hadn’t done much of anything for it, just left it as urban wasteland and opened it for people to use as they see fit.

It was probably the last warm day of this autumn, the afternoon sun was blazing behind gauzy clouds, and it was one of those beautiful, lazy afternoons when time just stops. I started my trip by taking a shortcut through a block close to my house, and had a positive surprise of finding a neat park with some weird beak-like structures, that were probably air vents for an underground garage.

Exploring Kalasatama

Stray off your usual routes and you'll find out you've been walking past weird glass bird beak things for a year and a half.

From there I continued to Suvilahti power station area. Suvilahti was a power plant that started its operations in 1909 and was shut down in 1976. Since that it has been repurposed as storage and gym space, theaters and a gig area, where for example the Flow Festival takes place. I spent some time photographing the old gas power plant structures and admiring the graffiti wall. I considered climbing to the large open structure to take some photos from a higher vantage ground, but the place was full of cameras and seeing as it’s not an abandonment but an active area populated by people who are generally into drinking, listening to music and painting on walls, I didn’t feel stupid enough that day to actually do it.

Exploring Kalasatama

I really wanted to climb up to the top of the old gas power plant structures, but there were far too many cameras around.

Exploring Kalasatama

Don't know if this is art, but I like it.

From Suvilahti I continued to Kalasatama, which was a big surprise for me. I didn’t know about its status as a recreational area for the first half of the trip, only when I found a sign on the shoreline explaining about the history and the future of the area. There were wide open expanses of asphalt fields, which used to be container storage areas and lanes for trucks and heavy machinery to queue in and out of the ships. The only things that were left were one lonely truck that was standing in middle of one of the fields, all torn apart and covered with graffiti, and jumbles of concrete structures apparently torn up and dumped in one corner of the yard.

Exploring Kalasatama

Wide expanses of asphalt with small lone figures engrossed in painting the walls.

Exploring Kalasatama

He thought he could, he thought he could...

I took some time photographing the concrete jumble before I realized, that they were covered with the shells of small barnacles, which I usually see on the bottom of the Baltic Sea covering all the shipwrecks – so this stuff had been under water.

Exploring Kalasatama

The rebars looked like some weird cilia. I half expected one of them to twitch when I get near.

Exploring Kalasatama

The functional Hanasaari power plant looks weird from certain angles. Just massive red brick blocks with very few doors or windows.

Exploring Kalasatama

I usually see this stuff on shipwrecks 10-20m deep in the sea.

At this point I have to remark on the graffitis and the graffiti walls, because there was like a kilometer of them, with plenty of painters filling out empty pieces of plywood in the lazy afternoon sun. I generally don’t like 90% of graffitis, because for me writing your dumb ass tag in the same blobby letters everybody uses is the fucking lowest hanging fruit what you could pick faced with an empty piece of wall and some spray paints. There was a whole lot of that crap, of course, but also some really good pieces I just had to stop and admire.

Exploring Kalasatama

I really liked some of the graffiti.

Exploring Kalasatama

I... see.

Exploring Kalasatama

An empty wall starting to get some colour.

There was a small bay, and on the other side of it more graffiti walls and expanses of asphalt, but also some discarded shipping containers, ships and boats moored on the dock, and so forth. I strayed near the boats and just had to board one large barge, all covered with rust and very beautiful in the afternoon sun. I got promptly thrown out of it by some workers on the docks, who explained to me that the actual waterfront with the boats wasn’t a public area. We had a nice, civil conversation about it, which was a welcome surprise in situations like this.

Exploring Kalasatama

Rust streaked concrete, afternoon sun and blackish water.

Exploring Kalasatama

A massively big, rusty barge.

Exploring Kalasatama

Usually when I see wooden boats in this shape, they are on the bottom of the sea.

At this moment I realized I was already a little bit late from our evening activities, but I just had to check out what was behind that last corner. It’s good that I did, since I found probably the coolest thing someone could have done with that space: an urban garden. There were edible and decorative plants in plastic troughs and planted in piles of car tires. Whoever came up with this, good  job!

Exploring Kalasatama

A really damn cool way to use public urban space like this: "Dodo's urban garden"

Exploring Kalasatama

Don't go and vandalize the garden, or you'll wake up every night with this guy staring at you across the room.

Getting Our Geek On

The evening program couldn’t have been different from the day’s trip. This autumn Susi and Jori had resigned their position in the videogames magazine they both worked, and we were having a farewell party for them and a welcome party for the new editor-in-chief. The party was held in Microsoft Finland’s brand new gaming basement, which was full of game reviewers and journalists, gaming consoles, snacks and drinks.

Checking out a tech demo of Kinect, the IR pictures it actually sees and the models it creates of people.

The main attraction of the evening on the game side was Xbox Kinect, the Microsoft’s gesture based controller for Xbox 360. I’ve been out of the game journalism for a year, apart from some reviews and such, so I have to admit that I was woefully ignorant about the system’s specs before that evening – and it was a very big positive surprise. Instead of being just a crappy net camera, it actually has IR sensors and whatnot which build a 3D stick figure model of the players. It tracks the movement surprisingly well and is really intuitive to use – I was able to jump straight into the games, like the ping pong that comes with the sports package, and get the idea with very little practice. Of course a system like this lives and dies with the games that are published for it, but got to say that I’ll be keeping my eye on the thing from this on.

Time for bubbly.

(Want to see more photos? Check out the Flickr Photoset here)

The game space closed up quite early in the evening, after which the whole group turned up for an afterparty in our apartment. It’s been a while since the last time I’ve gone native in a party environment where no subject is too geeky to talk about and where I don’t know everybody, and it was very relaxing and fun. The evening was filled with interesting conversations about video and board games, game journalism, linguistics, other sciences, literature, pop-culture and yeah, diving.

When the last people left and our house guest was turning in, it was already nearing dawn and I crashed to bed feeling far more relaxed than in a long time.

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