Helsinki, Finland / 2015


The upright posture of this new Guggenheim Museum alludes to its civic function and contrasts with the horizontality of the adjacent infrastructural buildings in Helsinki’s port terminal zone. The building’s exterior silhouette is a closed, crystalline shape that becomes more defined toward its base, where it lightly perches on pointed tips to impart a sense that the building is dislodged or movable. The ground on which the mass rests is a separate object produced by reifying the building’s own shadows, signalling that architecture produces its own context rather than mirroring the world around it and producing a sense of mystery and unknowability.

Vicarious Contextualism

This self-containment does not mean that resonances and indirect references are ignored. The building’s envelope is made of black composite slats that are formed and treated to partially evoke the black-stained wood found on medieval Scandinavian stave churches and Viking longships. A deep material sensibility is transformed through contemporary material logic to vicariously connect the building to iconic Norwegian objects without defaulting to direct quotation of adjacent buildings.

Deferred Interiority

Hidden inside the building mass is a vast space containing a nested object, which is sometimes tightly fitted and sometimes loosely fitted to the outer shell. The interstitial space between the nested object and the outer shell becomes a flexible, civic realm for opening events, symposia, and lectures. While visitors in this space are technically inside the building, they remain outside of something else—the nested object—and thus the expected separation between world and interior is deferred.

No Ground

Exhibition spaces are located both within the nested object and inside the thick poché spaces of the outer shell. Visitors ascend into the museum via escalators embedded into the shell and through the inner object’s central core. Circulating through the museum, visitors find themselves momentarily suspended above a deep, almost geological chasm as bridges and stairs cross over the interstitial space. Rather than experiencing a fluid continuum of art, visitors must leap between worlds, culminating in a sense that there is no ground.

Location: Helsinki, Finland
Floor Area: 15,000 SM
Program: Fine Art Museum
Client: The Guggenheim Foundation + City of Helsinki