Unfolding Guggenheim

Process—————27 January 2015

The open competition to design a new Guggenheim for Helsinki drew over 1700 entries, a new record for architectural competitions. While Studio Twenty Seven did not make the final six shortlist, we were selected by the United Kingdom’s Architect’s Journal as one of the hundred best entries. 

S27’s design process began by investigating how each existing Guggenheim responds to its predecessors and its place. As iconic build­ings, the experience of each Guggenheim is distinct. Within each icon, a narrative about the interaction of art and audience is created. The Guggenheim Helsinki writes a new narrative with three interweaving storylines. The first is the psychogeography of the site, its atmospheres and complexities. The second is the weight of history: each new Guggen­heim is an inflection point in a cultural shift. The third – and most important in setting Guggenheim Helsinki apart- is the cultural collision that this Guggenheim proposes to announce: a hybridized world where art and economy, high culture and low, structure and surface, are all intermixed and interchangeable. Guggenheim Helsinki embraces the complexity of this moment, by creating spaces choreographed to condense and relieve, obscure and reveal. In this way the spaces reflect the manner in which we come to understand and interact with art, in all its evolving forms.

All existing Guggenheim museums are both clearly recognizable as points along a design lineage as well as being distinctly of their place. The de­sign for this new addition to the Guggenheim network is an act of joinery: An analysis of the existing Guggenheim museums blended into the urban fabric and trajectory of the city of Helsinki. Conceptually, the design is a physical manifestation of interpreting a work of art. A non-linear, meandering journey with alternating moments of clarity, ob­scurity and interpretation. The interior is defined by varying spatial densi­ties capturing degrees of perceptual intensity while practically accommo­dating the frequency and fluctuation of museum visitors. The exterior is emblematic of the cognition process. The building is an icon in the South Harbor symbolizing the city as an international destination by gathering global visitors and extending public life along the shore and into the city   

S27’s proposal includes a large, flowing volume clad in Finnish fir wood that envelops the visitor upon en­tering the building. The sinuous shape connects all the major points of inter­est within the museum, starting at the lower level gift shop and bifurcating at the main atrium level before drawing views towards the city and the sky. The senso­ry experience of the circulatory space, defined by framed vistas and the scent of wood, alternats with the neutral gallery spaces flooded with light from overhead. Formal compression and re­lief relates to the intensity/density of artwork shown. While the galleries ca­ter to more traditional forms of display and allow for maximum control of hu­midity and light conditions, the atrium and circulation spaces offer the possibil­ity for more site specific installations or performances.

Helsinki’s position as a leader in ship­building technologies as well as being on the forefront of experi­mental use of wood in architecture influenced the design decisions made. The decidedly northern cli­mate calls for special attention to insulation – the build­ing envelope consists of either core insulated concrete walls, a double skin glass facade or a thick green roof. The central volume lends it­self to natural ventilation of the circulation spaces in order to keep mechanical conditioning to a mini­mum. Gallery spaces are lit with a combination of artificial light and daylight transmitted through fiber-optic technologies – allowing for a natural atmosphere while main­taining maximum control over the exhibition environment.

Studio Twenty Seven Architecture’s competition team included Interface Engineers and Siteworks Landscape Studio.


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