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Guggenheim Pushes Helsinki Forward, Locals Push Back

Guggenheim Pushes Helsinki Forward, Locals Push Back

by TODD STOLARSKI | July 1, 2015

In June of last year, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation sought to make waves with the upcoming competition for its next big museum. After previously commissioning iconic works from some of the world's most renowned architects, the nonprofit this time decided to break with tradition and cast its net into the great unknown. 

For its ambitious new Helsinki project, the Guggenheim took the increasingly trendy path of holding an anonymous design competition. From the 1,715 worldwide applicants, a manageable pack of six finalists was selected to move forth. Earlier this week, the 11-member jury announced a winner: Paris firm Moreau Kusunoki Architectes for its "Art in the City" design.  

Seen here in renderings, Moreau Kusunoki's concept seeks to merge the museum into its coastal surroundings. The lighthouse-like central tower is intended to reflect "the strong vertical elements of the city." Meanwhile, its facade of charred timber sourced from local forests evokes Finland's "great tradition of wood construction." According to the architect, that charring also represents "the process of regeneration that occurs when forests burn, and then grow back stronger." Sure.

As the grand prize winner, Moreau Kusunoki will receive an award of nearly $113,000, and at least a fighting chance to see its design realized in Finland's most populated city. Why "fighting"? Because the Helsinki City Council already has expressed two big concerns, one about public funding, and the other about the aesthetics of building such a daring design at the front door of such an old city.

Helsinki Vice Chairman Pajamaki, not a fan.

Helsinki Vice Chairman Pajamaki, not a fan.

“The symbol of the lighthouse is arrogant in the middle of the historical center,” said Osku Pajamaki, vice chairman of the city’s executive board. “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” told Robin Pogrebin of The New York Times.

Pajamaki isn't alone. As of July 1st, according to Architects' Journal, only six Helsinki councilors have confirmed their support of the Guggenheim/Moreau Kusunoki project. Stay tuned.

Despite the mixed local reviews, here the architects share their enthusiasm over the selection.

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All images courtesy of Moreau Kusunoki Architectes/Guggenheim

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