Jason Selvarajan: A shared kitchen helps me bring people together

Jason Selvarajan, Space 21 coordinator at Aalto, explains in the ‘Walk in My Shoes’ interview how, over a meal, people start talking to each other as if they were meeting for the first time, even though they’ve been working in the same space for months.
Jason Selvarajan, photo by Jessica Sinikoski.
Photo: Jessica Sinikoski.

Space 21 is a free studio space to experiment, explore and make ideas become reality. Can you tell stories about your work?

Before I started as Space 21 coordinator in the beginning of 2022, I worked on a project for Aalto University Archives with the PhotoRobot that I disassembled and reassembled in Space 21. Before that I was a service provider at Aalto Studios Fablab.

The first year was exciting because people didn't know much about Space 21. Recently, the space has become more popular, and it's been nice to introduce the space to guests. The spirit and feedback are good. People often ask me how to get access and work here.

Some ambitious New Media students have a collective, and they have been in Space 21 since the beginning. They painted such a nice mural in one of the rooms, and I now call it the Mural room. One of the events they have organised is Flux Island, which took place in Vuotalo in Vuosaari. It was a lot of fun, and students from a nearby school would play there during breaks. Almost the same group of new media students also organised Pikku-ÄäniAalto, the little sibling of ÄÄNIAALTO, the crossover audiovisual new media festival.

Space 21 is also a pre-incubator for new business ideas. For example, Giggeli, a candle-making company based on body-positivity and founded by students from the School of Business, started in Space 21 and now has a showroom in Pasila. They have been really good at marketing.

I must also mention Iivo Angerpuro from the School of Electrical Engineering, who first discovered Space 21 through a prototyping course. He has constantly been coming up with new projects to be able to continue working in Space 21. He is our unofficial mascot, often present from morning till night.

We currently have students and staff from all the Aalto schools. Research groups now include RAT (Transdisciplinary research across art + science + technology); they are growing mold and scanning deer meet for radioactivity as well as working with other biomaterials. Soon, the Department of Computer Science will start a study on robotics-human creativity. 

Aalto Studios has a storage space in Space 21, and we get to use their nice sound system for some student run film nights. Hopefully we can do a big outdoor screening in the future. I like it when people support and help each other, even when they technically don’t have to.

So much is happening in Space 21 that I learn something new every day. At the same time, I try not to judge any of the projects. I remember once when I wanted to do a project myself and my teacher didn't believe in it. But I did it later anyways. I was left thinking that maybe I'm not the right person to judge whether a project will be successful or not.

Jason Selvarajan, photo by Jessica Sinikoski.

When I started the job, I was told that they were looking for a ‘mood manager’ whose job was to create a good, positive atmosphere.

Jason Selvarajan

What’s it like to walk in Jason Selvarajan’s shoes?

I prefer roller-skating or longboarding to walking, and I expect there will be "no roller-skates indoors" stickers around campus soon.

When I started the job, I was told that they were looking for a ‘mood manager’ whose job was to create a good, positive atmosphere with the attitude that anything is possible. I'm not always in a good mood, though, despite what other people say.

But I always start off with the mindset that everything can be done, as long as it is physically possible. Once I had to say no to a project - the Aalto Formula team would have liked to start in Space 21, but we don't have doors wide enough for the car to fit through.

The more people know about Space 21, the quicker the spaces start to run out. It's a bit exciting as well. Art projects usually want their own peace and space, but I've had to put several projects in the same room. My job is to juggle: to move projects and people around until I find the right corner for everyone. It's all about fair play.

I want to help others because that way they will reach their goals faster or better. I can also learn by watching what others do.

What do you think is the most effective way to create cross-disciplinary collaboration?

For me, it's important to keep our common areas clean. I found that kitchen helps me bring people together. I try to invest into common appliances like the coffee machine, a blender, and an air fryer. When we eat pizza together, for example, people start talking to each other as if they were meeting for the first time, even though they've been working in Space 21 for months.

What would you like to happen at Aalto if someone makes a mistake or fails?

We recently had two consecutive fire alarms. Both were caused by popcorn, and one of them I caused myself. Already at the turn of the year, I suggested that we should budget a couple of fire alarms for the year just in case. Of course, it depends on the fire brigade whether a bill will follow. The first time they laughed, but I'm not so sure about the second one. Besides, there are also researchers in the same building, and when the fire alarm goes off, they also have to evacuate the building. It’s much more expensive and causes problems for others. I would not want to do that. Fortunately, the second fire alarm happened in the evening, but I get a little nervous again when thinking about it.

Riikka Mäkikoskela is responsible for radical creativity at Aalto, and she is my supervisor. She gave me encouragement by saying that maybe we can learn something from this. I didn't feel so bad about it anymore. We should have more people like Riikka. 

What does opening the creative flow mean to you?

I try not to be an obstacle to the flow. There may be sticks and stones in the way, but I try to clear them out from underneath so it can flow freely. It's always easier to help others than to help yourself.

In practice, this means that I try to make everything frictionless. Of course, we have to have a website and forms, but I try to keep everything as simple as possible. We have some core rules - everything has to be safe, and you have to clean up any mess you make.

Why is sustainability important to you? 

I am now studying Creative Sustainability in Aalto, and previously I studied Education Entrepreneurship in OAMK and Environmental Engineering at Metropolia. After my bachelors I started a company with the goal of making a more sustainable shower. It didn’t work out, but I did learn digital fabrication and landed in Aalto.

I try to recycle materials and equipment as much as possible in my work. There are a lot of good tools on campus, which may not have a very high usage rate. But here at Space 21, students and researchers could use them, so I try to let everyone know that we welcome ‘obsolete’ gear. I am currently working with IT to create a website where tools for creativity are listed, incase new or existing students or researchers haven’t explored them as much as I have. I think tools and tool knowledge are part of the foundation for building a sustainable future and part of repair culture also.

What would you like to develop at the Aalto community?

Studio Kipsari at Otakaari 7 has often been voted the best restaurant on campus. The soup there is delicious, and I would like more people to know about it. I would like to help Kipsari grow, and I just joined the Kipsari board to promote veganism through yummy food.

I also hope that Aalto can keep improving the working conditions of everyone that keeps the workshops and labs running so they stay – great people make a great community.

What do you do in your free time and why is it important to you?

Apart from roller skating, badminton has become more important in my life. I’m always up for a game, any time of day, so consider this an open invitation to challenge me (I’m not that good, I just love the game).

Last year I also started stand up paddling. It perfectly combines tranquility of water, being outdoors and nature. I can cycle with the SUP in my backpack and inflate it on site. I can just look at a blue area on a map, go there, and suddenly I'm floating. It now feels like there's more nature within reach.

Walk in my shoes

If you would like to share your story for the Walk in My Shoes series, please contact [email protected] The Aalto Cultural Development project is led by Carita Pihlman.

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Walk in my shoes, illustration by Anna Muchenikova.
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