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Fragile waters: new exhibit at Helsinki Airport reminds passengers of the vulnerability of water resources

Article published
3.4.2019 at 09:00
Fragile Water exhibition glass display cabinets at Helsinki airport 2B baggage claim.
Design students and researchers from Aalto university collaborated to visualize sustainable water solutions at Helsinki Airport’s arrivals hall 2B.

In a display case between the luggage conveyors, fragile milk-white glassware looks like it is about to be broken by the power of green-brown sludge. The series of three minuscule art pieces is touching in its vulnerability.

Tzuye Chen’s piece “Crackled” depicts the devastating effects of sewage in freshwater ecosystems.

“If wastewater isn’t treated, water ecosystems will break, like in my artwork. I developed the concept of my work together with my mentor, doctoral student Juho Kaljunen, who helped me to understand the flow of waterways. The airport is a special showroom: we had to think about how to draw a passenger's attention in a few seconds,” Chen explains.

Human activity challenges water ecosystems

Human activities, such as industry, agriculture and the resulting pollution, threaten freshwater reserves around the world. This is a huge problem because the welfare of all humankind and countless animal and plant species depends on the quality of fresh water.

Aalto University design students and water researchers joined forces to visualise water-proof solutions to be displayed to passengers collecting their luggage. The Fragile Water exhibition, opened at Helsinki Airport in January, illustrates the sensitivity of water resources by combining science, art and graphic design.

Based on contemporary research on this topic, the students have shaped imaginative glass works that are presented to incoming passengers with visualised information.

The exhibition is part of a three-year cooperation between Finavia and Aalto University and can be seen in Baggage Claim Hall 2B.

Protecting waters is critical

Kaisa Västilä, postdoctoral researcher at Aalto University, says that mentoring design students has been rewarding.

“My research focuses on how we can best integrate people's needs from water resources to nature’s own needs, such as good living environments for wildlife. In practice, I told them about my own research work and answered the questions of the students.”

Västilä says that 65% of the world's rivers are threatened by human activity. Water protection is therefore very important, especially as population growth, progressive urbanisation and industrial agriculture consume water resources at an accelerating pace. Although the EU's water protection objectives are ambitious, action is urgent.

“Researchers are responsible for telling the public about the state of nature. The joint exhibition of Finavia and Aalto is a good way to remind the public of the importance of protecting our fragile water resources,” says Västilä.

Finavia invests in water protection

The glassworks and infographics will be on display in the airport until the end of 2019. The three-year agreement between Finavia and Aalto University covers three exhibitions. While the first of these was about raw materials and their shortage, the theme of the third exhibition (to be opened in 2020) will be decided later.

According to Finavia's customer experience manager Johanna Laakso, water was a natural theme selection for the exhibition. Water protection is important for Finavia: for example, determined efforts have been made to protect the streams of the Helsinki Airport area.

“The students and researchers have done a great job. The arrivals hall is certainly not the easiest space for the exhibition, it requires a lot from the work displayed.”

Waiting for luggage is considered by many to be one of the most boring steps in the journey. The Fragile Water exhibition offers both eye candy and serious reflection to prevent boredom.

“The exhibition proves that fresh water is not to be taken for granted. For example, one cup of coffee requires 140 litres of water. We have more than 20 million passengers in Helsinki Airport, so we need to take the issue seriously,” Laakso concludes.

The Fragile water exhibition can be seen in Baggage Claim Hall 2B, where travellers arriving from outside the Schengen area pick up their luggage. The exhibition was opened on 23rd of January and will be open until the end of 2019.

Mariana Solís Escalera, Tzuye Chen

Mariana Solís Escalera (left) And Tzuye Chen are students of the first year of the Aalto University Contemporary Design programme. They considered their work with researchers as inspiring.

Read more about our work to protect freshwaters around Helsinki Airport.