After years of public scrutiny and six months of jury deliberations, the Guggenheim has finally revealed the winner of its Helsinki museum design competition.
It is young Paris firm Moreau Kusunoki, which has proposed to break the museum into a series of nine low-slung pavilions, connected by outdoor walkways and oriented to frame views of both the city and the South Harbor where it aims to reside.
The procession of individual structures would be led by a single lighthouse-like building, and all would be clad in glass and charred timber, Finland’s principle natural resource.
Since the breakout success of Frank Gehry’s glittering Guggenheim Bilbao in 1997, the Guggenheim has been courted by cities the world over to build an equally iconic behemoth that would lure tourists in by the millions.
By contrast, Moreau Kusunoki’s design is physically open to its environment, conceived by a relatively unknown firm, and a selection from an anonymous, open competition that produced 1,715 submissions — in short, a total divergence from the Guggenheim brand, which had previously been built on the hand-selection of celebrity architects.
Acceptance and controversy
This sea change in approach is a reflection of the institution’s painstaking efforts to appeal to the Finnish, who have thus far been vehemently anti-Guggenheim, specifically for its large price tag, now set at $147 million with an additional $1.4 million in annual operating fees, as well as the the threat of a hulking symbol of American imperialism landing on its waterfront.
“The implication is that a country as small as Finland should not invent anything itself, but rather learn from and copy foreign masters,” Finnish artist Merja Puustinen opined last year.
Consequently, the Guggenheim charm offensive has been set to full force.
The museum sought a proposal “worthy of Helsinki’s position as the mecca of design and architecture,” and “aspired to the transparency your society is known for,” Guggenheim director Richard Armstrong gushed during Tuesday’s press conference.
Whether this Nordic cultural capital will elect to join the Guggenheim in the 21st century remains to be seen.
In the meantime, the local Guggenheim Helsinki Supporting Foundation, led by Finnish investment banker Ari Lahti, has pledged to raise 30 million euros in private support before the Helsinki’s City Council is scheduled to cast its vote in the first half of 2016.