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“Fragmented Exhibition Spaces”: Guggenheim Picks Architects for Helsinki

“Art in the City,” the winning design for the proposed (but not yet government-approved) Guggenheim Helsinki, is “a collection of [nine] linked pavilions, each orientated to respect the city grid, and anchored by a lookout tower,” in the words of the jury statement on the selection of Paris firm Moreau Kusunoki Architectes, founded less than four years ago by the husband-and-wife team of Nicolas Moreau (previously and briefly with SANAA) and Hiroko Kusunoki (previously with Shigeru Ban).


The most distinctive feature of the sprawling “Art in the City” (cue Sarah Jessica Parker?) is dubbed “The Lighthouse.” The skin of the pavilions is composed of glass and dark charred wood.

Here’s an aerial view:


And here’s one of the “fragmented art exhibition spaces” (in the words of the jury announcement). The ceiling certainly is fragmented—sliced by obtrusive lighting apparatus that casts distracting shadows towards the art, if this rendering is to be relied on:


As with all preliminary renderings, much is expected to change if this project gets the governmental green light. The jury statement notes:

It was recognized that further work would be needed to resolve vertical circulation, use of the main terrace, and the construction of the roof, but these issues were considered to be a normal part of design development, and the Jury had confidence in the strength of the design concept. The concept is extremely flexible and is designed to embrace evolving urban, museum, and technological requirements.

But will this ever get built? As noted in the Guggenheim’s press release: “Further consideration regarding the development of the proposed museum lies with the Finnish stakeholders at the local and national level.” Funding is expected to come from the city and/or the Finnish State.

The questions that I raised about this project back in October 2013, when the Guggenheim released its revised proposal, are still very pertinent today.

As reported today in the NY Times by Robin Pogrebin and Doreen Carvajal, some grumbling has already begun. Osku Pajamaki, vice chairman of the city’s executive board, gave voice to some of the misgivings Finns feel about entrusting their capital’s cultural identity to foreigners:

Mr. Pajamaki [said] that it appeared that the winning design would dominate the harbor despite pledges to fit it into the environment of Helsinki’s neo-classical architecture facing the area.

“The symbol of the lighthouse is arrogant in the middle of the historical center,” he said. “It’s like you would put a Guggenheim museum next to Notre Dame in Paris. People are approaching from the sea, and the first thing that they will see is that the citizens of Helsinki bought their identity from the Guggenheim.”

The financial aspects are also at issue. When the competition was launched, the construction cost was pegged at €130 million, excluding taxes. Funding for the project is expected to come from both public and private sources.

As cultural journalist Jonni Aromaa wrote in an opinion piece for Finland’s YLE Uutiset (fire up Google Translate), “The City of Helsinki will still have its own analysis on the possible economic impact of the Guggenheim art museum, in addition to the figures presented by the American Foundation.”

Only a little more than a third of the $30-million goal for private donations to defray the Guggenheim’s “licensing fee” has thus far been raised by the Guggenheim Helsinki Supporting Foundation. As reported by Aino Frilander and Pekka Torvinen in Helsinki Sanomat (fire up Google Translate), the fundraising “challenges” were attributed to “Finland’s economic situation [and] the fact that not all potential donors will commit to the project before the city’s position on the construction of the museum becomes clearer.”

The best that Mayor Jussi Pajunen would say for the press release is: “A Guggenheim Helsinki could have a significant, positive effect on Helsinki and Finland”—not an unequivocal endorsement.

For now, let’s hear what the architects have to say about their work. This video was made during the competition phase, when submissions were anonymous, so you will not hear or see anything specific to their design:

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