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Guggenheim Helsinki Design Competition Launched; Armstrong Walks Off TV Interview

Elevated view of the competition site from Restaurant Palace building, looking southeast  Photo by Tuomas Uusheimo

Elevated view of site of proposed Guggenheim Helsinki
Photo by Tuomas Uusheimo

Richard Armstrong, director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation today announced in Helsinki the launch of the design competition for the Guggenheim Helsinki, which will need final approval from both the City of Helsinki and the State of Finland after the two-stage competition concludes. The winner of the competition is expected to be announced next June.

According to a report by Finland’s YLE News, Ari Wiseman, the Guggenheim’s deputy director, revealed that “more than 800 pre-registrations have already been received ahead of the competition.” What’s more, Stage One of the competition, as described in the Guggenheim’s Competition Conditions (p. 71), will be “based on an anonymous design submission.”

This laudable (but perhaps naïve) attempt at openness may result in the selection of an imaginative design by an untested neophyte as one of the “up to six proposals” advancing to Stage Two. At that point, jurors will learn the identity of the shortlisted architects, but their names will not be linked to their designs, a Guggenheim press spokesperson told me. (“Let’s see…Which one looks like Frank Gehry?!?”)

It remains to be seen whether elite architects will be willing to subject themselves to this determinedly democratic procedure on a project for which necessary government approval and funding sources are still uncertain.

As revealed in this brief video (with a snarky caption), an impertinent YLE reporter riled Armstrong with a pointed question related to this uncertainty (shades of my recent questions to him about the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, to which Richard had responded courteously):

YLE Reporter: You want the State and the City Council to make a decision to back this project: whether to finance it next year, 2015. What if they say no?

Armstrong: I don’t know. [Pause] I’m not liking this interview. These are typical bad questions.

Whereupon, with the camera still rolling, he got up and left (but returned later “after consulting with his PR agency,” according to YLE’s report). What we don’t know from this 28-second “gotcha” clip is whether this was the last in a string of hostile questions that may have seemed designed more to entrap than to elicit information.

The competition’s 11 jurors (identified in the press release linked at the top) include six representatives from Finland. Representing the Guggenheim is Nancy Spector, its deputy director and chief curator. The jurors are chaired by Mark Wigley, professor and dean of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation:

Mark Wigley Photo courtesy of Mark Wigley

Photo courtesy of Mark Wigley

Here’s the brief for the project, as enunciated on the Guggenheim Helsinki Design Competition website:

The proposed Guggenheim Helsinki will be an innovative, multidisciplinary museum of art and design. It should be of the highest architectural quality, creating a meaningful presence in Helsinki and offering civic space where both residents and visitors can gather. A prominent site has been reserved for the building at the symbolic gateway to the city from the sea, and close to the historic center. The wider Eteläsatama area forms a significant regeneration zone.

A decision on whether to proceed with the construction and development of the museum is expected to be brought to the City of Helsinki and the State of Finland for consideration following the conclusion of the competition and the public announcement of the winning design.

The building’s total anticipated construction value is €130 M, excluding taxes, and the total site area is approximately 18,520 square meters. The total floor area designated for the museum building is approximately 12,100 square meters, of which approximately 4,000 square meters will be exhibition spaces. All areas of the museum should be conceived in terms of how they support social interaction and the experience of art [emphasis added].

The museum building will include galleries, a flexible performance hall, educational space, a large café/bar, a smaller formal restaurant, administrative offices, practitioner spaces, collections storage, a retail store, and other facilities. Outdoor spaces for the display of sculpture and projects are also needed.

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