World-class museums are often closed off from the world around them, separated from the pulse and flow of a city by hefty admission fees and unwelcoming architecture. A proposal for the planned Guggenheim Helsinki attempts to solve this problem by folding the traditional museum around a public street. Reserved for street art and general use by the public, this central space will form a connection between the city of Helsinki and its waterfront, access to which has been traditionally blocked by shipping infrastructure and parking. Even in the coldest winter months, Helsinki residents will have an indoor, informal gathering space, woven directly through the formal artistic collection of the Guggenheim.
The idea is a finalist in the design competition for a new, controversial Guggenheim in the Finnish capital. Out of 1,715 designs submitted in September, the Guggenheim Helsinki competition jury–made up of Finnish government officials, Guggenheim curators, and architects like Jeanne Gang–winnowed the field down to six finalists, all of which attempt “to expand the idea of what a museum can be,” according to the official jury statement. Finalists include Zurich and L.A.-based AGPS Architecture Ltd., London-based designer Asif Khan, the international firm Fake Industries Architectural Agonism, German studio Haas Cook Zemmrich STUDIO2050, Paris-based Moreau Kusunoki Architect, and the Madrid and Australian-based firm SMAR Architecture Studio. While the names of the finalists have been made public, the authorship of the designs will not be revealed until after a winner is selected.
The aforementioned proposal isn’t the flashiest submission, but it’s the most thoughtful idea for integrating the museum into the city. The competition itself has been wildly controversial, with local critics objecting to the cost to Finland of bringing an art museum chain to a city that already has its own established art and design community. In September, a counter-competition was launched by an independent group of arts organizations calling for alternative proposals for the harbor site planned for the Guggenheim expansion.
This tension is reflected in the shortlisted designs, many of which attempt to foster some type of public space to complement (or offset) the presence of a global art-world import, like pedestrian connections to the nearby Tähtitorninvuori Park, boardwalks and waterfront promenades, and food halls. Other design teams proposed flashier architecture–a cluster of timber towers rising off the waterfront; a series of pavilions that would rise out of the harbor fog; a glass-encased form that would light up like a beacon. None seem to incorporate Helsinki’s urban design needs as well as the brief known for now simply as “GH-5631681770,” but it remains to be seen what the city of Helsinki, as well as the Guggenheim’s stakeholders, are looking for in their future museum–a vibrant public space, the tourism dollars of a starchitect’s Finnish equivalent of Bilbao, or something else entirely. Next, the competition will move into Stage Two, with teams continuing to develop their concepts before a winner is selected in summer 2015.