A permanent performance - an American theatre icon designs a park for the memory of a Finnish design icon

Reija Hirvikoski
Presentation for the joint meeting of OISTAT Performance Design and OISTAT Research 2013, Shanghai, China

It was Tapio Wirkkala’s (1915 – 1985) daughter, artist Maaria Wirkkala who first suggested inviting director Robert Wilson to be the designer of the park for the memory of her father, a Finnish designer and sculptor. Wilson had used in 1981, a photograph of Tapiola Wirkkala’s Ultima Thule sculpture, as a backdrop in a theatre performance at the Piccolo Teatro in Milan.

Wilson says, ‘Designing a theatre play, a chair, a house, an exhibition or an entire city fundamentally is the same. The architectural space tells us a story.’ Since his first visit to the site at Helsinki in 2004, he wanted to create the park as a performative piece of architecture. Wilson and his collaborative partner in this project, architect and scenographer Serge von Arx shares the same kind of thinking. Von Arx calls Tapio Wirkkala Park (2012) a ‘permanent performance’ and it has been the most architectural project he’s ever done with Wilson. Von Arx also claims that the park is very much related to the intrinsic nature of scenography, because of its narrative – verbal, visual or acoustic.

I see Wilson’s approach to the park design and its site deeply conceptual and phenomenological. Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1964) defines a space: “I live in it from the inside; I am immersed in it. After all, the world is all around me, not in front of me.” 


The photos are taken by Reija Hirvikoski.