ATDF rooftop garden – ground zero

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Creative Sustainability (CS) programme organized a twofold workshop for rooftop garden of Aalto-Tongji Design Factory (ATDF) and Oula, one of the students who continued with the second part, offers his experience during the trip to Shanghai. View the outcomes of the first part here and more photos on Flickr.

Aalto-Tongji Design Factory rooftop
Aalto-Tongji Design Factory rooftop
Aalto-Tongji Design Factory rooftop | Photo by Oula R

There were four teams – each with unique approach – in the Helsinki part of the workshop, and one representative from each team were chosen more or less by draw and then two additional students were added by the trip organisers to foster multidisciplinarity within the travelling group: Olga Airaksinen, Timo Arjanko backgrounded in architecture and Kätlin Kangur backgrounded in industrial design from CS; Fangting Li backgrounded in Landscape Architecture and currently majoring Environmental Art; Sarri Kukkonen representing the School of Business; and finally myself – Oula Rahkonen – from landscape architecture. The trip was made possible by the project manager Karoliina Parhiala and the program director of CS, Tiina Laurilla. Seungho Lee flew there with us and documented our process while giving a lecture to and being a guest critic in a food safety.

Main goal of this trip was to give a presentation to the board of the Sino-Finnish Center and to leave something physical on the rooftop to remind people of Aalto-Tongji Design Factory (ATDF) of the project even after we left. As a group of student representatives we decided to get the final presentation ready before we fly to Shanghai so that we could concentrate on other things once there. In reality, of course, we were actually still working on the presentation until the morning of the day of the presentation. Nonetheless that turned out to be a good thing because in the end we were able to better crystallize our message into an easily understandable 5 minutes presentation.

Working Flying
Working Flying | Photo by Sarri K

Preparing for the presentation for ATDF board
Preparing for the presentation for ATDF board | Photo by Sarri K

PD6 – Product Development in 6 hours

Thanks to Karoliina, we were lucky to have the input from Tongji students to the rooftop garden project through PD6 workshop led by Matti Hämäläinen, the Operative Director of ATDF. PD6 means, as Matti puts it, a Product Design workshop that goes from the initial brief through the final presentation in 6 hours. We used this opportunity to develop our rooftop project and there were also four other teams working on various design challenges.

Twenty Tongji students together with us were divided to two groups and worked hard the whole day together. After a short introduction, where everyone immediately forgot everyone’s names, both groups were headed to the roof top and started brainstorming. Despite similar start we quickly noticed the different approaches that our teams had. In my group together with Kätlin, Olga and Tongji students we started to narrow down our ideas and decided on a few things concentrate on while the others with Timo, Sarri and Fangthing were creating a wider plan for the whole roof top. Both of the approaches turned out to be beneficial for further development as one. From the plan with larger scope we got a lot of ideas that could be done in the near future or in the next step of the planning process while we got immediately executable ideas like painting the entrance staircase from the other.

The other and maybe even more important part of the workshop was the feedback and the exposure we got. Although a product design workshop didn’t perfectly fit in with our more spatially oriented tasks I think that we got some fresh feedback to our ideas. Also it was a great opportunity to see what else was happening in ATDF.

Working in PD6
Photo by Tiina L

Photo by Seungho L

PD6 presentation
Working in PD6, PD6 means Product Development in 6 hours. It is as demanding as rewarding! Photo by Seungho L

Presentation to the board of ATDF

After PD6, thanks to professor Lou, we got a chance to stand in front of the board for a few minutes just when the meeting was ending. Although no decision was officially made the board members seemed to be positively interested about the project and hoped that on their next meeting the food could come from the rooftop.

Presentation for ATDF board
Presentation for ATDF board
Presentation for ATDF board | Photo by Sarri K


The second and more relaxing goal for the trip was building. We focused on building a module structure, bringing in cultivation boxes and grill and highlighting the entrance to the rooftop. The module structure is intended to cover some of the boxes in order to create interesting space for imagination onto the rooftop. First thing first, we spent quite considerable sum of time to clean up the rooftop and it meant a bit of breaking, a lot of brushing – even with some water, cleaning the pipes, and rearranging the scrap wood panels.

Breaking down the machines, literally
Breaking down the machines, literally | Photo by Sarri K


Cleaning | photo by Seungho L

Rearranging means more space
Rearranging means more space | Photo by Tiina L

As it was difficult to find large hardware stores like we have in Finland some parts of the plan had to be improvised. A whole blog post could be written about the interesting and small hardware store culture in China – Seungho and I spent half a day to find the most basic light equipments for the rooftop. If you’re lucky, you will find a street or district.



Flower market

Flower market


Stuff!, Flower market, Delivered | Photo by Sarri K

At one evening, a number of landscape architecture students of Tongji University chipped in their time and manpower, which we really appreciated. Working with the students who seem to really enjoy the gentrification with us made us think that there is an actual users group who could really use and develop the space. We worked hard together on the rooftop painting and hammering.

Flooring | Photo by Sarri K

Scratching the surface, literally
Scratching the surface, literally | Photo by Olga A

Now making!
Now making! Photo by Kätlin K

Welcome to ATDF Rooftop!
Welcome to ATDF Rooftop! Photo by Kätlin K

Painted! Photo by Tiina L

Now spraying!
Now spraying! Photo by Kätlin K

Welcome to the room for imagination
Welcome to the room for imagination | Photo by Sarri K


To initiate new activities on the rooftop, and to also have some fun, we organized two events. On Halloween eve we had a horror movie night followed by a traditional after-sauna on the roof top. Before the movie we build module parts and painted the window frames together with the Tongi University students. And as the sun sets quite early in Shanghai we had to improvise a lighting solution from a coat hanger and two fluorescent lamps. Unfortunately because of the cold weather and the state of our renovation project we had to move the screening indoors. Hopefully now as there’s more room on the roof, movies can be also watched under the open sky.

The second event was a Grill-opening party, which was also our farewell party on our second last day. The combination of free food, alcohol and sauna seemed to be a great success. Even the pouring rain didn’t scare away our guests who just moved inside to the safety of the sauna. That followed by numerous Disney theme songs on the late hours of the day showed that a pleasant place for gathering and grilling is a good basis for building a great roof top.

Of course we did Sauna
Of course we did Sauna | Photo by Timo A

While trying to execute all of our plans we have also had a little time to see a lot of openings and exhibitions and Angry Birds and Santa Clauses. Even better than that, Fangting’s mom and her aunts kindly cooked for us at ATDF. I would like to thank them again as well as the ATDF staff who allowed the space for their generosity, and we promise we’ll host them in Helsinki.

Fangting's mom and Aunts
Fangting’s mom and Aunts | Photo by Seungho L

Leaning how to cook Chinese dumpling
Leaning how to cook Chinese dumpling | Photo by Seungho L

Coming back…

Flying back to Finland I feel positively exhausted. I’m not sure if our rather small intervention will spark the imagination and eventually a positive turn of the rooftop once we are back to Finland. Or if all the work that we put into the board meeting presentation made any difference on the final decision. But at least we as a group got excited about all the possibilities that the rooftop has to offer. And I hope that some of our excitement was also passed on to our fellow Tongji students who can in future make something great out of the space. I hope to see the local students in a bigger role, more like as the hosts for the ATDF rooftop if our workshop group gets a chance to come back and work on this project.

Hope | Photo by Timo A

The team

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Student representatives

Fangting Li, Environmental Art, School of Arts, Design and Architecture
Kätlin Kangur, Interior Architecture, Creative Sustainability
Timo Arjanko, Architecture, Creative Sustainability
Sarri Kukkonen, School of Business
Oula Rahkonen, Landscape Architecture, School of Arts, Design and Architecture


Lou Yongqi, professor, Tongji University
Tiina Laurila, program director, Creative Sustainability, Aalto University
Karoliina Parhiala, project coordinator, Aalto University
Seungho Lee, Creative Sustainability, Aalto University