Today the Guggenheim Museum announced that the Paris firm Moreau Kusunoki Architectes won the commission for its new Helsinki outpost. To select the museum’s design, the Guggenheim staged an international, open competition that received 1,715 submissions from architects located in 77 different countries. Moreau Kusunoki Architectes, which Nicolas Moreau and Hiroko Kusunoki established in 2011, proposed a campus of charred cedar–clad pavilions linked by walkways. A monolithic tower rises above nine low-slung structures. The architecture firm will receive a cash award of 100,000 Euro (about $109,000) for the winning concept.
Mark Wigley—jury chair and professor and dean emeritus of the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation at Columbia University—stated the following in a press conference:
“The waterfront, park, and nearby urban area all have a dialogue with the loose cluster of pavilions, with people and activities flowing between them. The design is imbued with a sense of community and animation that matches the ambitions of the brief to honor both the people of Finland and the creation of a more responsive museum of the future.”
High-profile commissions, such as this one, are typically awarded to much larger, established architecture firms. For the Helsinki museum, the Guggenheim welcomed designs from anyone who was able to submit, posted them anonymously online where the public could view and comment, then selected six finalists. An 11-member jury of esteemed architects then selected the winner.
The arts institution instigated this format after controversy arose over the proposed museum’s construction. As the New York Times reported, some Helsinki government officials balked at the 130 million Euro ($145 million) price tag that would be shouldered by public funds and paying a $30 million licensing fee for using the Guggenheim brand. Other officials viewed the project as a potential economic boon that would draw tourists and jobs to the city. A New York think tank went so far as to propose Next Helsinki, an alternative plan for developing the proposed Guggenheim site. Museum officials eventually waived the licensing fee and said they’d work with the city to solicit private donations.
But questions still surround the selection process. While some praise open-design competitions for their seemingly democratic approach, the reality is that they’re notoriously inefficient, with thousands of man hours (read: money and resources) spent on the losing proposals. Only firms who can essentially offer their labor and intellectual property for free enter. As Kriston Capps wrote on Co.Design in March, it shouldn’t take a haystack to find a needle.