Arabia Comprehensive School’s specialized education in architecture and design wins the Helsinki Design Award

This year’s Helsinki Design Award granted by the City of Helsinki and Helsinki Design Week recognizes architecture and design education. The jury acknowledged the long-term pursuit of design thinking and knowledge sharing. The Helsinki Design Award goes to the Arabia Comprehensive School of Helsinki.
Headmaster Mari Suokas-Laaksonen, Arabia Comprehensive School.
Thanks to design education, pupils will have the tools to approach challenging situations, says Mari Suokas-Laaksonen, Headmaster Arabia Comprehensive School. Photo: Sara Vallioja-Hertell

The Helsinki Design Award is a tribute to the deeds and doers that make this city a better place to live. This year, the award focuses on architecture and design learning, which has been pursued in Finland for a long time, developed across many disciplines and acclaimed internationally.

Design thinking has been the backbone of activity and the curriculum in the Arabia Comprehensive School of Helsinki since 2016. Headmaster Mari Suokas-Laaksonen says it is the school’s task to teach children skills for the future. No matter in which field the pupils end up as adults, thanks to design education, they will have the tools to approach challenging situations.

“Design thinking involves creative problem solving, through which pupils learn to review challenges and find solutions together. Nobody needs to tackle a problem alone, no matter how insurmountable it seems,” Suokas-Laaksonen says.

The principles of architecture and design education are implemented in all subjects at Arabia Comprehensive School. In addition to arts and crafts, creative problem solving is used to design new sports games, resolve disputes during recess and find solutions to environmental crises in biology class, for example. The school has its own ARMU design process freely available online (Link leads to external service) (in Finnish).

“We are designing a design-driven comprehensive school together. We do not have a ready-to-use format so it is a slow process, but after the next seven years we will have taken many steps forward,” Suokas-Laaksonen says.

She thinks the Helsinki Design Award is an amazing acknowledgement for the work community and the pupils.

The jury applauds consistent development

In selecting the winner of the Helsinki Design Award, the jury emphasized the long-term work of integrating design thinking into teaching outside the arts, exploring experimentation culture and engaging in collaboration outside the school world.

The jury consisted of Design Director at the City of Helsinki Hanna Harris, Pedagogical Specialist at the City of Helsinki Education Division Panu Hatanpää, founder of the Finnish Association of Design Learning Mari Savio, Headmaster of Architecture School Arkki Jaana Räsänen and Executive Director of the Association of Cultural Heritage Education in Finland Eeva Astala. The chairman of the jury was Helsinki Design Week’s Founder and Director Kari Korkman.

“Architecture and design education offers children and young people the keys to exploring and appreciating their own immediate environment as a learning environment, whether it is a school, a neighbourhood or a city,” says Hanna Harris.

“As a city, we can support the wellbeing of children and young people and their opportunities to be active by introducing architecture and design education as part of basic education.”

Harris continues, “There have been many influential people and factors at Arabia Comprehensive School that have helped make design a permanent part of the school’s culture. Design education has been refined into a unique package for this school from which hundreds of pupils can benefit greatly.”

In selecting the winner, the jury also emphasized the versatile collaborations of the Arabia School with universities and various organizations. For example, the school has just started a joint project with Tulevaisuuskoulu (“Future School”) and Sitra, the Finnish Innovation Fund, in which 9th-graders get to learn about “future power” across various subject areas.

The Helsinki Design Award winner is announced on 12 September 2023 at the opening of Helsinki Design Week’s main exhibition in the Merikortteli block. The Award is handed out by Mayor of Helsinki Juhana Vartiainen.

Headmaster Mari Suokas-Laaksonen will join Helsinki Design Weekly’s Talks event on Friday 15 September at 6pm. More information on Helsinki Design Week website. (Link leads to external service) 

Helsinki Design Week presents new people and phenomena within design in cooperation with various partners. Established in 2005, Helsinki Design Week is the largest design festival in the Nordic countries. This year Helsinki Design Week will take place around the city 8–17 September. The festival offers citizens a platform to participate in the development of the city and related discussion. 

The main partner of Helsinki Design Week is the City of Helsinki.