Spotlight,  Architecture,  Culture,  Finland

Meet Kaapelitehdas, Finland’s largest culture centre

Nestled within Helsinki’s West Harbour lies a huge cultural complex named ‘Kaapelitehdas’ or ‘The Cable Factory’. At 62,000 m2 in size, it is Finland’s largest culture centre – but intriguingly, the scale of the building is the only one of the impressive features of this incredible building. Since 1991, the structure has been at the forefront of events, exhibitions and kick starting and spreading the conversation about Finland’s creative hub.  Its diverse set of tenants (reaching over 300!) sees art schools, bands, dancers, sports clubs, artisans and radio stations, to name a few, work their magic within its walls. It also houses ‘Kaapelitehtaan Konttori’ (or ‘multi-use space/café/showroom’) within The Cable Factory. There’s something for everyone within Konttori – even those in search of printed gems. 

Overleaf’s Stuart Williams spoke with Kaapelitehtaan Konttori’s Hospitality Manager Mari Nilivaara for an interview about what’s happening in the centre as a whole, daily goings-on in Konttori – the multi-use space and showroom, their collaboration with artists and makers, but also its magazine archive and sellers. You can read the full interview below.

© Kaapelitehdas
Pictured: Mari Nilivaara (Used with permission - Kaapelitehtaan Konttori/Mari Nilivaara)

Can you tell us a bit about the Cable Factory/Kaapelitehdas, for those who may not have heard of it?

Cable Factory is the largest cultural centre in Finland and one of the biggest in the Nordics, and we’re looking forward to seeing you! Drop into the museum, be impressed by the dancing, get caught up in the activities, enjoy a festival, savour a snack and be inspired by the freedom of doing things.

Our slogan is “Where culture makes life better”.

The Cable Factory is a rugged factory environment spanning five hectares with lots to do, see and experience for everybody interested in culture. [It] is administered by the property management company Kiinteistö Oy Kaapelitalo, which is owned by the City of Helsinki. 

Situated in Helsinki’s Ruoholahti district, Cable Factory was the biggest building in Finland when it was completed in 1954. Initially it was a production site for rubber and marine cables. Later on, Finland’s first supercomputer was located here. When manufacturing and data communications activities ended in the late 1980s, cultural practitioners, armed with their brushes, instruments and creative ideas, took over the Cable Factory’s abandoned corridors.

Nowadays, hundreds or creative tenants work at the Cable Factory. It is full of new and unexpected things– and invites you to join in.

Kaapelitehtaan Konttori (“Cable Factory’s Office” in English) is Cable Factory’s heart and its living room. Konttori is made for all Cable Factory’s visitors and tenants to offer a pleasant stop-off point that provides cultural inspiration.

In Konttori you can find a lovely cafe with Finland’s favourite flavours such as korvapuusti (Finnish style cinnamon bun), coffee from local roastery, micro brewery beers etc. We also have co-working space, a stage to perform on, micro gallery for the local artists, culture and scientific magazine gallery, and of course Temporary bookshelf. Drop by and have a good chat with our awesome staff.

There’s a lot of history behind the building. Can you tell us a bit about that and its current evolution?

As our web page says: Cable Factory has thousands of stories, and its history stretches back over a century. It has been a place for making cables, rubber, supercomputers as well as unforgettable cultural experiences. 

You can read all about the history of Cable Factory here 

The newest big steps from Konttori’s and hospitality team’s point of view has been the opening of our new main entrance Glass Courtyard and Dance House and starting to develop the visitor satisfaction here at Cable factory. Our goal is to get our visitors to stay in Cable Factory and widely use the services: visit the museums, grab a lunch, see a performance, enjoy dinner, relax and have a glass of wine etc. We love to see our visitors spending a whole day in Cable Factory!

As an organisation we keep on working for Finnish cultural heritage, and being a profound part of Cultural centres in the Nordics and in Europe. We do a lot of collaboration with other European cultural centres and cities.

"My opinion is that as Cable Factory is such a profound part of Helsinki’s cultural scene and Konttori is a new quite cool place, that makes a great combination. Here in Konttori we really want to support young artists. We are just planning a new service that’s designed for new and upcoming artists and artisans."

Mari Nilivaara, Hospitality Manager at Kaapelitehtaan Konttori/The Cable Factory

Helsinki has seen large cultural developments over recent years. Do you feel that Kaapelitehtaan Konttori fits into that important cultural heritage of the city, as well as the Nordics as a whole?

Cable Factory as a whole is an important part of the cultural heritage of the city and also Nordics. Kaapelitehtaan Konttori has been open almost two years now, so we are still pretty new in the game. For our part, we want to make Cable Factory and the whole art and cultural scene more easy to access for everyone.

The brand for the venue has seen a refresh by BOND. Can you tell us more about the process of working with BOND?

Working with BOND has been a pleasant ride. They really got what we wanted our new brand to be visually and as an identity. They work very professionally and made a great brand for us. Our new brand has been widely praised.

A translated version of the identity (to English) was also created – it must be a great way to reach new audiences?

It is a great way to reach new audiences and a way to tell more about who we are and what we want to achieve in the cultural field.

Rooftop & Main Space (Courtesy of Kaapelitehtaan Konttori/Mari Nilivaara)
Merchandise (Courtesy of Kaapelitehtaan Konttori/Mari Nilivaara)
Seating areas (Courtesy of Kaapelitehtaan Konttori/Mari Nilivaara)
Curated magazine gallery (Courtesy of Kaapelitehtaan Konttori/Mari Nilivaara)
The Temporary Bookshelf (Courtesy of Kaapelitehtaan Konttori/Mari Nilivaara)

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With over 6 galleries, 3 museums, dance house and over 50 music spaces, there must be a hive of activity there on a daily basis. Could you describe an average day for you, Mari?

I can quite confidently say I have one of the best jobs in Europe. As I work here in Cable Factory as a hospitality manager my work days vary a lot. I have a great, devoted team of nine people so I usually start the day with them seeing what is happening in Konttori and my team’s other fields of services: info service, our new lifestyle shop Tehtaanmyymälä (“Factory outlet” in English), events, catering etc. If you want to know what is happening in Cable Factory, you have to talk to my team, they are complete pros!

During the day I have meetings with my colleagues, our tenants and other local partners about collaborating, events, new products, tickets sales, upcoming performances and such. We do a lot of collaboration with the tenants: We sell their products, we have events together, we sell their tickets, or we cater their meetings etc. 

We do quite a large variety of events here in Konttori: art exhibitions, discussion sessions, open mics, DJ’s, premier after parties, intermissions, private parties, you name it!

My daily chores also include developing hospitality services, financial reporting, all around maintenance planning for our unit’s spaces, planning on new products and just seeing that our visitors seem happy. My job is very hands on and concrete, and  I’m very keen on developing our services for our visitors and tenants. At the moment I’m already making a plan of action for next year.

If I have time I go to our roof garden and water our kale (as a good millennial does).

During your time there so far, has there been a highlight for you? (Event, exhibition, any amazing food?)

My biggest highlights are definitely the times I see my team succeed. When I see them reach their personal or shared goals at their job but also in their personal lives, it makes me very happy. 

Another very sentimental highlight was when the Dance House and our new main entrance Glass Courtyard finally opened in the beginning of 2022. The first premier in Dance House was Tero Saarinen Company’s (one of our beloved tenants) Hz/Hunt and seeing it in a totally new venue after all the struggle that is COVID-19, I might have shed a tear. And experiencing that with my team and our organisation was such a bonding moment. 

Third fun experience for this year was when the Helsinki Coffee Festival (also a great tenant) asked us to collaborate with them. We had a nice little bar during the festival and it was awesome and such a learning experience.

With such an expansive roster of tenants across a huge range of industries, is there a strong collaborative energy or synergy?

We do have quite good collaborative energy here. We have a lot of very long term tenants here and it’s great working with them. As you can read above Konttori has a lot of collaboration with our tenants and I also know the tenant’s collaborate with each other. 

I host a monthly meeting for the tenants who have a joint ticket sales system and we also have a synergy group meeting monthly for our tenants who offer visitor services ( restaurants, museums, organisations offering hobby activities, dance and theatre companies etc.)

What do you think is the most appealing part for new artists, sellers, creatives, etc to join forces with Kaapelitehtaan Konttori/The Cable Factory?

My opinion is that as Cable Factory is such a profound part of Helsinki’s cultural scene and Konttori is a new quite cool place, that makes a great combination. Here in Konttori we really want to support young artists. We are just planning a new service that’s designed for new and upcoming artists and artisans. 

At Overleaf we focus on magazines – notably indie publications and their makers, sellers and everything in-between. Notable shop The Temporary Bookshelf resides within the walls – have you had a chance to check out their selection?

Yes. The selection is high quality and well curated. Hikari does a great job. I also like that the products are always evolving. The collection changes quite often and keeps it interesting. The Temporary bookshelf also brings us new customers who have not visited Cable Factory before.

I’ve read that there is a magazine gallery in the venue, can you tell us a bit more about this?

Yes! We collaborate with Kultti Ry, the Association for Cultural, Scientific and Advocacy Magazines, that has been a central civil society actor in Finland since 1991. Kultti  Ry promotes the activities of its 200 member magazines and defends their interests. Kultti Ry informs about current events, provides training and discovers new ways of promoting the distribution of its member magazines.

We have a good variety of cultural, scientific and advocacy magazines and you can read them here in Konttori for free! You can find the magazine gallery upstairs.

Having this archive of magazines must give a great insight into various subjects?

Yes it does. It is also very important to serve our visitors and local public by giving them a space and possibility to read the magazines in a large field of subjects for free.

Independent shops are a crucial part of the arts and culture world in Helsinki – do you feel that this sector has been an integral part of Kaapelitehtaan Konttori?

Most definitely. Our part is to support the arts and culture in a way we can: Giving a platform, selling their products, keeping a good range of interesting products and of course always keeping in mind what suits us and what is Cable Factory. 

What would you like to see in Kaapelitehtaan Konttori in the future? Or, is there something you’d like to see the venue focus on more in the future?

Now that we are more or less able to have events, I love to see that people want to do them with us. We have great things coming in the autumn. Our plan for this and next year is to have monthly events held by our own team and have as many collaborations with our tenants and young artists as possible. We want to have easy access, easy going events. First you go and see a great contemporary dance performance and after that you come to Konttori and enjoy our laid back open mic event. How great is that?

What’s the stand-out, must-visit event/exhibition/show in the venue this summer? Do you see many tourists?

It has been so good to finally see tourists after a couple of years. In the summer the best places to visit are the museums but also just to wander around Cable Factory. As I always tell the visitors: if the door is open, you can enter. 

If you want to get a nice gift or a souvenir you have to visit Tehtaanmyymälä, you’ll find local cool products there.  

For the autumn season I highly recommend Zodiak – Center for new dance’s production: Taavitsainen , Karp, Gautadóttir: I’m the monster, a new solo piece from a Finnish multidisciplinary artist Katja-Maria / Kay Taavitsainen. The performance centres on a non-binary body and aims to unlock the pleasure and desire that the body inhabits. 

I have had a pleasure to get to know Kay during the production and we are planning an event and they are truly an amazing artist. 

You can read more about the performance and get the tickets from:

Thanks so much for answering our questions!

Where to visit

Here are some useful links related to the interview. These may include social media links only.

Kaapelitehtaan Konttori/The Cable Factory – Official Website (English)

Kaapelitehtaan Konttori/The Cable Factory – Official Website (Finnish)

Kaapelitehtaan Konttori/The Cable Factory – Instagram

The Temporary Bookshelf – Instagram

Correct at time of writing.

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