UPDATED: Please join CSU as we welcome our guest speaker Ella Kaira and Matti Jankälä and moderator Rick Bell on Wednesday, November 15, 2023 from 12:30-1:30 pm ET for our next Green Cities Event of 2023!


As the penultimate ‘Green Cities’ talk of 2023, we look at how community engagement and storytelling intersects with people-based architecture and urban design. The guest speakers from Vokal Architecture employ a blend of architectural design methods and research in order to explore the dynamics between architecture, social movements, and property markets within the contemporary city. Vokal believes in the importance of communication. When engaging with communities, a need for a common language becomes evident. Storytelling methods can foster an understanding of  our built environment and reveal the underlying forces driving urban development. A wealth of knowledge exists regarding people’s needs and desires in cities. The aim of Vokal is to bring forth this information in the urban planning process. The approach is based on a deep understanding of place and local communities. Cities are most effectively conceived when involving the people who inhabit and utilize them. Being vocal helps to create urban environments that are beneficial, accessible and welcoming to a diverse populace.

Our originally scheduled talk on transportation and COP28 with Mohamed Hegazy, has been cancelled last night due to an unexpected schedule conflict.


Ella Kaira and Matti Jankälä are co-founders of the Helsinki-based architectural firm Vokal. Their approach to architecture and urban design is community-based and research-driven.

Ella Kaira, Architect and Urban Planner. With her background in architectural design and urban studies, brings a unique perspective to the practice. She is passionate about employing storytelling as a tool to demystify the complexities of urban development and foster a deeper connection between people and their built environments. Her work emphasizes the importance of communication in engaging with diverse communities to ensure that urban planning is inclusive and representative of the populace’s needs.


Matti Jänkälä, Architect. His expertise lies in blending architectural innovation with practical research to explore new paradigms in urban living. His approach is characterized by a profound understanding of local contexts and the dynamics of urban spaces. Matti is an advocate for participatory design processes, believing that the most effective urban solutions emerge from active collaboration with the people who inhabit and utilize these spaces.



Rick Bell, FAIA, 2023 CSU President

Rick Bell is an Adjunct Associate Professor at Columbia University and Acting Director of its Center for Buildings, Infrastructure & Public Space. He previously was at the NYC Department of Design and Construction as Assistant Commissioner and Director of Design & Construction Excellence.




  1. Understand methods of community engagement in the projects undertaken by Vokal Architecture in Finland.
  2. Describe the relation of historical development forces in the Meri-Rastila neighborhood and the efforts by neighborhood social housing residents to protect existing forest and resist displacement.
  3. Discuss the protection of existing historic community resources, such as the Merirasti Chapel, and the efforts to guarantee historic preservation of community facilities on rental property.
  4. Identify how participatory workshops can be valuable platforms to employ architectural tools to uncover the needs and desires of local communities in their immediate surroundings.


Consortium for Sustainable Urbanization (CSU), UN-Habitat, AIA New York, AIANY Planning & Design, the NGO Committee on Sustainable Development-NY, Habitat Professionals Forum for  Sustainable Cities, Creative Exchange Lab (CEL), Global Urban Development (GUD), and the Columbia University Center for Buildings, Infrastructure and Public Space (CBIPS)

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