an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me

Game On: Guggenheim Helsinki Architectural Competition Green-Lighted

Parking lot designated as site for possible Guggenheim Helsinki  Photo by Ari Wiseman

Parking lot designated as site for possible Guggenheim Helsinki
Photo by Ari Wiseman

Can the dauntless, doughty Guggenheim vanquish all doubters and plant its flag in Finland?

The chances for realization of a Guggenheim Helsinki improved last week with the 10-5 vote by the Helsinki City Board to set aside as its possible location a waterfront parking lot adjacent to the the Tallink-Silja shipping terminal in the city’s South Harbour (image above).

After the conclusion of an architectural competition for the project, the Helsinki City Council (as distinguished from the City Board) will vote on whether or not to proceed. Eleanor Goldhar, the Guggenheim Foundation’s deputy director and chief of global communications, said that the guidelines for the competition are to be announced this spring.

According to p. 7 of the revised proposal for the Guggenheim Helsinki (analyzed here), issued by the Guggenheim last fall, the architectural competition was to be “anonymous and international,” open to “young and emerging practices as well as the most established figures in the field.” But when contacted by me last week, Goldhar said that whether this will be a blind competition “is one of the questions we will address during our planning for the competition.” But she also told me that no changes had yet been made to the above-linked revised proposal.

Frank Gehry has previously expressed interest [fire up Google Translate] in expanding his Guggenheim franchise to Scandinavia. His work would probably be instantly recognizable in an “anonymous” competition.

In May 2012, the same City Board that has now green-lighted the competition had voted 8-7 against proceeding with a Guggenheim Helsinki. That prompted the Guggenheim to come up with its revised proposal, which took into account many of the opponents’ objections.

According to p. 67 of that proposal, which envisioned the same location that’s now been approved, the plot was to be “13,000 square meters [emphasis added] in size, with the total area of the museum building approximating 12,000 square meters, of which around 4,000 square meters would be devoted to exhibition space (comparable to that of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York).” But the Helsinki City Government’s announcement last week said the reserved plot is 18,520 square meters (almost 200,000 square feet).

The Helsinki Times, which called the Guggenheim offshoot, “one of the most disputed museum projects in Finland” [are there others?], reported that “the reservation [of the plot of land] will expire at the end of 2015, before which both stages of the privately-funded international architectural competition are to be held.”

The changes that made the City Board more receptive to the Guggenheim’s approach included a commitment to find (as yet unnamed) private sources to pay for the $30-million “licensing fee” for the Guggenheim’s brand, and the decision to preserve the autonomy of the Helsinki Art Museum, rather than merge it with the Guggenheim. But the revised proposal contemplates government funding for the (as yet undetermined) cost of the building and some of its operating costs—still a sticking point for some opponents.

Speaking of the Helsinki Art Museum, Janne Sirén, its former director, thought to have been in line for the directorship of the Guggenheim Helsinki before leaving Finland to become director of Buffalo’s Albright-Knox Gallery, is now contemplating a possible major construction project of his own, which had been conceived under his predecessor, Louis Grachos.

an ArtsJournal blog