4 / 2015 - Guggenheim, schools

Guggenheim Helsinki is a unique urban design and museum project due to its enormous media visibility. Now, after five years of mega-publicity, they have an idea of what they would like to build. “The village-like composition creates a natural prolongation of the harbour promenade, thanks to the transparent and open character of the ground floor”, as architects Hiroko Kusunoki and Nicolas Moreau describe their competition winning proposal. The Paris-based architects tell about their scheme, which is presented extensively. For the young Japanese-French duo, the museum is not only an exhibition space but also a place in the city where people gather and meet. “The museum is a place that creates memories.” In addition to the architects themselves, two international architecture critics examine the charcoal-black, wood-structured winning scheme. Jonathan Glancey from London strongly criticises the museum’s rural appearance and the whole project in general. The Stockholm-based Rasmus Wærn states that the winning proposal has development potential due to its flexibility, but wonders whether Helsinki’s Southern Harbour is the correct place for a park-pavilion museum. The financing for the project is still open, and in the future the viewpoints of politicians will be of key importance.

Cultural policies of the everyday are implemented out of sight of the media, but the result can still bring about excellent architecture. This issue presents, amongst other things, new school buildings, which are no longer merely pedagogical institutions but multipurpose buildings full of activities from morning till evening. Schools are developing into weekday cultural centres for the city districts. Two of the presented buildings, Opinmäki School in Espoo and Kangasala Arts Centre, have been nominated for this year’s Finlandia Prize for Architecture.


Past June The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation announced the Helsinki museum competition winner. The project now proceeds according to the proposal of a young Parisian practice, albeit the financing and thus the implementation of the building are still uncertain. Architects Hiroko Kusunoki and Nicolas Moreau write about their winning scheme and thoughts on architecture. Two international architecture critics review the result of the competition. Their look upon Helsinki is from the outside, Rasmus Wærn's from Stockholm and Jonathan Glancey's from London. The architects’ interview below.


Could you describe the essential aspects of your design. What kind of an art museum did you aspire to design?

The Guggenheim Helsinki must represent a new museum paradigm, just like every Guggenheim museum has done before. Our proposal is an iconic lighthouse, but also a sustainable architecture that is more than a landmark. It is a place which invites and draws together both the visitors and the community of Helsinki to meet with art and architecture.

The scheme we propose is a shared ecosystem that enables a conversation between the visitors, the staff, the art and the urban fabric. It is not only a place for display: artistic productions permeate the building and its activities by their presence. The fragmented continuum, articulating heterogeneous activities in a variety of spaces reflects the inhomogeneity of modern and contemporary art. These activities do not take place in confined or hidden rooms but in transparent and open areas, allowing social and surprising discourse to happen in a cultural context.

The moment when people meet art is very intimate. We hope this one-to-one moment will engrave a mark in people’s memory with the space and the time they spent here. A majority of today’s people is aiming to live an experience when visiting a museum. Art is part of this experience but not the only thing: the architecture also has to play its role in the special moment that someone is expecting to feel. It should be a place that challenges minds and emotions, a place that creates memories.

Tomorrow’s museum has to be thought of in terms of horizontality, openness, flexibility and public engagement, where people are invited to stroll in and out. This attitude aims to propose a new way of considering the museum: it is not only an institutional destination, it is also a part of the city, where people gather and meet, even without necessarily visiting the galleries.

What is the building’s relationship with the place and context?

In terms of urban continuity, the grid of the museum is inherited from the urban fabric and the village composition creates a natural prolongation of the harbour promenade, thanks to the transparent and open character of the ground floor. Also the bridge connecting Tähtitorninmäki park to the rooftop of the museum is extending the possibilities of access to the harbour. We can imagine that the museum will have very rich outside activities thanks to the proximity of the ferry boats, old market hall, open market, shops and museums around the site.

Helsinki’s identity comes also from its particular skyline, shaped by the presence of the ferry boats, factory chimneys and the Lutheran and Orthodox Cathedrals’ bell towers. The iconic tower of the museum echoes with these strong vertical elements. It accommodates the High Gallery and the Lighthouse Restaurant at its top, which rises 35 metres above sea level. From up there people can enjoy astonishing views over the city and the unique roof scape of the Guggenheim Museum and reflect on the experience and openness of contemporary Helsinki.

What about the use of wood, what are your thoughts about it?

The structures of the pavilions and the tower are mostly in timber, in laminated veneer lumber (LVL), which is a very high performance timber structure system. It has mainly been developed in Finland thanks to the rich culture of wood and the large resources available in the country.

We’re also suggesting exceptionally long spanned beams. Each pavilion is designed mostly based on a 24–25 metre grid, which is considered the maximum transportable dimension of timber material. Luckily, such long beams can be transported directly to the site by boat.

Concerning the use of charred wood in the facade, we selected this material at a very early stage of the competition. The use of charred wood is strongly anchored in the traditional timber construction in Finland. There is also a culture of charred timber called yakisugi in Japan. It is an ancestral technique to reinforce the wood and make it more resistant to water and fire. It is very beautiful as well, especially when it ages and becomes shiny.

Wood may not be as strong as concrete, but it’s in the cycle of nature, and felling and re-planting trees makes the forests stronger. We like very much this approach of co-existence, cycle of rebirth, and smart use of simple materials. Charred timber appeared to be both the perfect fit for a building at the sea side and a material in line with our philosophy. Together with our material experts, we want to take the most advantage of the Finnish timber resources. In the stage two of the competition we had a local partner, Huttunen–Lipasti–Pakkanen Architects and are very happy that we could work with Pekka Pakkanen who was supporting us mainly.

In what way in your opinion does your design express the Guggenheim brand? Could you name some other art museums that have impressed you?

The jury’s choice expresses an evolution of the role of the museum in the society where the museum is playing an active role in the community. Somehow this evolution contributes in redefining, in a positive way, the identity of the Guggenheim brand.

The vertical gallery in the lighthouse pays homage to master architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Our design for Guggenheim Helsinki incorporates variously proportioned exhibition spaces, as do the New York and Bilbao museums as well (Frank Lloyd Wright 1959; Frank Gehry 1997), to display exceptional artworks and also to facilitate the exchange of works among the Guggenheim museums around the world. In terms of philosophy, we were inspired by the approach of the BMW Guggenheim Lab (Atelier Bow-Wow 2011–12), which shows another way to shape the relationship between art and life, inviting the public to participate in defining the museum and the space itself, a unique approach to bring art into urban life.

We really like Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (Jørgen Bo, Wilhlem Wohlert 1958) in Denmark, in terms of the building quality as well as the museum experience. We also like Kanazawa 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (SANAA 2004) in Japan. It offers a friendly and inspiring art experience.

How did you meet and decide to put up a studio together?

We started our careers in Tokyo in 2005. Nicolas worked for SANAA and Kengo Kuma, Hiroko for Shigeru Ban. We both worked on a wide range of projects including the Louvre-Lens (SANAA 2012); the contemporary art center FRAC in Marseille (Kengo Kuma 2013); and the Nomadic Museum in Tokyo (Shigeru Ban 2007). In 2008, we moved to Paris, and Nicolas cofounded and directed Kengo Kuma’s European office. Hiroko worked for Hala Wardé at Atelier Jean Nouvel + Habiter Autrement. Our own office, which we founded in 2012, is located in the 11th arrondissement in Paris. We are flexible from 8 to 15 people including ourselves.

What is your image of Finnish culture?

Beautiful nature, highly and innovatively educated people, one of the most democratic society, motivated for something new… these aspects belong to our image of Finland. Great works of ceramic, textile, glassware, furniture… and, of course, sauna! All these are essential for wellbeing in life. We have a lot to learn from the Finnish culture.

We visited Finland in 2009 and stayed in Helsinki at the Palace Hotel, which looks over the now Guggenheim site. During the stay, we visited mainly Alvar Aalto’s works, including Villa Mairea. Art and craft works, beauty of simplicity and natural materials… those are the qualities that we can see in Aalto’s works and also in many works of Japanese architecture.

Our cultural duality is legible in all of the projects we conceive. Our work is intended to be timeless, and yet to establish a dialogue with the past and build links with the future, while creating a feeling of intimacy. We feel comfortable with architecture that is humble but strong and inspiring. ark


Do you think, perhaps, that school is more or less the same as it used to be when you were a child? Only a couple of decades ago, school-related activities were mostly limited to the duration of the school day. Pupils sat quietly at their desks devouring the knowledge dispensed to them. Parents could browse the textbooks to find about what was being taught to their offspring and a child with a keen interest on the subject could read up on new things in advance.

It is no longer so – the world has changed and schooling with it. And this change is ongoing. Partly, the life of children and young people – just like that of the adults – has migrated into the realm of the net, and only some of the knowledge to be absorbed is found in textbooks. Tablets and smartphones are playing an increasingly significant role in looking up information, and so they are gaining in importance at school as well. The book has not disappeared, but its significance has changed, just like that of the teacher and the learning situation.

In today’s school, teachers are not just feeders of knowledge; rather, they serve as instructors supporting the learning process. Teachers encourage pupils to work, explore and look up information, independently and in groups, quietly on their own and in interaction with others; sitting still and moving about both inside and outside the classroom. Children learn the multiplication tables or the rules of the grammar so familiar to the parents as if in passing – by gaining insight together.

At the same time
, the use of space has undergone a change. The classroom is no longer just a classroom or the school just a school. Today, learning environments are often created as multipurpose facilities that offer activities for people of all ages from morning till evening. Aside from a school, the building may house a day-care centre, library, youth activity centre, and a mother-and-baby clinic. Concentration provides opportunities for new encounters and cooperation models while at the same time saving both costs and the environment.

Spatially, the new multipurpose buildings are designed to be flexible to permit multiple uses now and in the future. Additionally, the new national core syllabus for schools that comes into effect in 2016 calls for flexibility. By integrating subjects, enhancing interpersonal skills, increasing ethical understanding, teaching ways to look up information and manage large bodies of data while instilling a sense of community, the school will seek to prepare the pupils for future challenges that the skills of any single profession will not be able to meet. Even so, flexible spaces and multipurpose buildings offer no shortcut to glory – the efforts to develop learning environments need to be continued because they will provide the key to the future. ark

Architect Vera Schulman works for Espoo City as a project planner in the Education and Cultural Services.


Näköislehti: Site Logic