Helsinki, Finland, 2015

This design for a new Guggenheim Museum establishes vicarious relations to the local context of Helsinki, while simultaneously withdrawing from those contexts in order to create a discrete and internalized world for art. This withdrawal is intended to incite and confound speculation on the building’s origins, to further create a mysterious sense of depth beyond superficial qualities.

Perching and Strange Contextualism

Postured upright, the museum’s verticality alludes to its civic function and distinctly contrasts the horizontality of the adjacent infrastructural buildings and port terminal zone. The building is a composite, an irreducible shape comprised of large and small crystalline objects. Its silhouette becomes more defined towards its base, where it lightly perches on pointed crystal tips to impart a sense that the building is dislodged or movable. The ground on which the mass rests does not belong to the land, but rather is a deferral of landing. The shape of this podium is produced by reifying the shadows produced by the building itself, rather than divined from external contextual relations. Consequently, architecture begins to produce its own context.

The envelope of this crystalline mass is made of black composite slats that are formed and treated to partially evoke the black-stained wood found on medieval Scandinavian stave churches. A deep material sensibility is transformed through contemporary material logic to vicariously connect the building to its cultural context.

No Ground

Hidden inside the building mass is a vast, vertical space containing a nested object, which is sometimes tightly-fit and sometimes loosely-fit to the outer shell. The interstitial space produced 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, it is also true that they remain outside of something else—the nested object—and thus the separation between world and interior is deferred.

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. Bridges and stairs cross over the interstitial space to connect inner and outer exhibition spaces. Circulating through the museum, visitors find themselves momentarily suspended above a deep, almost geological chasm. Rather than experiencing a fluid continuum of art, visitors must leap between worlds, culminating in a sense of there being no ground.

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