On the 2nd of December, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation released the list of the 6 finalist, out of one thousand seven hundred and fifteen applicants, for the proposed new Guggenheim Helsinki museum. The Guggenheim ethos reflects a close relationship between art and architecture, encouraging the design of the museums to reflect as a form of the art that it houses. The history of the Guggenheim Foundation, boast the likes of iconic buildings that have become tourist attractions in terms of art, architecture and as an urban intervention. The Frank Lloyd Wright museum in New York has set a standard for many museums that have followed since. The Frank Gehry museum for Bilbao, opened in 1997, became an instant icon with its organic façade and unusual use of materials.

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Right: The Frank Lloyd Wright museum in New York – Left: Frank Gehry museum in Bilbao

The latest addition to the Guggenheim family is intended for Helsinki, Finland as it is considered as an emerging city globally, situated as a city between the east and the west (designguggenheimhelsinki.org). The Guggenheim Foundation, after extensive research decided on a site situated in the south harbour in Helsinki. The site is situated close to the historic city centre and is immediately visible to visitors arriving into the city by sea (designguggenheimhelsinki.org). The city of Helsinki has a 2050 plan for the city regeneration which includes this particular site as part of the upgrade for the city, which further highlights the importance of this particular site. The museum is meant to exhibit art from the 21st century as well as focus on Nordic art and architecture. As with all the other Guggenheim museums, the Helsinki museum is meant to be a creative display of architecture to match the exhibited art. In respect to the theme of the museum, that being 21st century art, the competition brief included aspects to incorporate in designing the building that would not only match the theme, but in itself become an icon representing 21st century art that would be internationally recognisable as part of the Guggenheim family or brand. Much like with current architecture, spaces should be inter-disciplinary and flexible to accommodate different uses as well as future possible uses. The brief also includes the sizes of the museum which totals to approximately twelve thousand square metres, four Thousand of which should be solely dedicated to exhibition space. A major part of the brief includes sustainability in keeping with 21st century architecture and lifestyle. It particularly highlights the use of bio-economy as Finland leads the world in sustainable bio-economy (designguggenheimhelsinki.org: brief).

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Finalist: GH-76091181 – Image Courtesy of Malcolm Reading Consultants

Whilst the brief and concept sound great, it leads one to wonder if such a special site, in such an emerging country, really needs the use of the Guggenheim brand to bring it to the world’s attention, or is the Guggenheim foundation piggy backing off the possible regeneration of this city which sits in the pivotal location between the east and the west. This seems to be valid as an organisation in Helsinki called The Next Helsinki are hosting their own competition for this site in which they hope to develop it to its full potential rather than situate a museum from a brand as opposed to creating architecture and an urban intervention that would mean more to the city and relate to the city on more than just an artistic platform (nexthelsinki.org: background).

This concern is further perpetuated from the selected 6 finalists. Not only do none of the selected 6 projects correlate to their specific architects chosen to preserve anonymity, but just looking at the chosen renders they seem very far from the most important aspect of the Guggenheim brief regarding their branding and that is of forward thinking and iconic.

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Image Courtesy of Malcolm Reading Consultants

The images are a repetition of architecture we have seen before, light as a beacon, industrialised portal frames with a modern twist with piano roofs and one entry that resembles a lotus flower or something resembling flora which has been so overdone I don’t even think it is worth elaborating on. So what is the purpose of a competition brief if none of the selected buildings actually stuck to them? Architecture needs to be responsive. As a stand- alone building, architecture defeats the very purpose for its construction and a part of being responsive is taking the surrounding into consideration, a form of critical regionalism, something lacking in almost all the projects.

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Image Courtesy of Malcolm Reading Consultants

Are we judging a possibly new architectural icon purely through a rendering? Surely a project of this magnitude, with approximately one thousand seven hundred applicants should have taken more than just a few months to sift through? The secrecy leads one to ponder on the bases for the decisions taken by the Guggenheim Foundation and what the criteria were for them to be able to have made this list of 6 finalists, all of who seem to have a very vapid common concept. The renderings look amazing no doubt, but how exactly does this incorporate the bioeconomy and sustainability that was stressed upon in the brief? And did any of the finalists bother to incorporate the rich heritage site that it sits on? Being the main reason for its selection in the first place?

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Image Courtesy of Malcolm Reading Consultants

The results have clearly left many open ended questions about the process of selection. Most of which will be overlooked and ignored by the institute in charge of the decision making, again raising more concerns about the trajectory of future architectural intervention and its compete disregard for site responsiveness, urban integration, culture and very importantly the daily users. The Helsinki Guggenheim project is just one of the many ignorant interventions to impose our landscapes, the new age of architecture is coined by consumerism and commercialism rather than being the stance for change, possibility and upliftment like it should be.


Guggenheim Helsinki Design Competition(2014) Guggenheim Helsinki Design Competition – Overview/Brief[Online] Available from: www.designguggenheimhlsinki.org [Accessed: 06.12.2014]

Written By: Zakeeya Kalla – Edited by : Ibrahim Abdelhady

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