4 / 2013 - museum, warsaw, nanjing

The dramatic architecture of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews has attracted attention among the international media. Architects Ilmari Lahdelma and Rainer Mahlamäki talk about the many phases of the implementation of this significant building as well as about their work methods. The site of the museum, in the centre of the former Warsaw Ghetto, necessitated a building of monumental character. The local architect and critic Gzregorz Stiasny tells that the rational and at the same time sculptural building arouses many kinds of associations in visitors, from biblical symbolism to erotic connotations.

Architecture trespasses the borders of countries and continents. 24 architects from all over the world were invited to take part in the China International Practical Exhibition of Architecture, among them Matti and Pirjo Sanaksenaho from Finland. The architects discuss the great differences in the ways of doing things but note that it was a relief to see that similar work is being done all over the world, anyhow.

The small Museum of Innocence in Istanbul glorifies the mundane and the ordinary. Orhan Pamuk, creator of the museum, wanted to distance from the grandiose-scale and celebrate the details of everyday life. In his opinion, pompous museum institutions are outdated; museums of the future are small and inexpensive. In Milan, a new museum of contemporary art was opened in old factory workshops. The monumental scale of the industrial halls makes Hangar Bicocca unique, offering impressive art experiences, versatile activities and even culinary art. The concept would provide suitable educational material for Finnish design teams designing new art museums.


The VIP villa is situated on the shoreline of a lake in a natural park. The idea behind the design scheme was the warm light of a Chinese lantern.

architects Matti and Pirjo Sanaksenaho
Foshou Lake District, Nanjing, China
gross area 800 m2
completion 2012

The small museum in Istanbul celebrates the details of everyday life. In author Orhan Pamuk’s museum the ordinary is more important than the grandiose.

First came the book, The Museum of Innocence, a novel written by Orhan Pamuk, an astute observer of Turkish modernity who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2006. The book was published in Turkish in 2008.

After the book came the museum, the Museum of Innocence. It was completed in late April 2012, in Çukurcuma, the old centre of the European part of Istanbul. This is precisely where the characters of the book live and where the melodrama of the relationship portrayed in the book is set – a story unparalleled in its obsessively detailed dissection of a tragic love story.

4213 cigarette butts

The background and structure of the book and the museum are identical. Pamuk worked simultaneously on both from 2001. The 83 chapters of the book are represented in the 83 sections and elements, the displays and objects, in the museum. Behind the construction is Pamuk’s incessant need to discuss the recent history of his own beginnings, his own part of the town, his own social class – old money and Europeanised elite. His overtly nostalgic touch lingers contentedly on the everyday objects and memories of the past.

The museum repeats and adds to what the book achieves. It creates an image of the tragic relationship between Kemal and Füsun, and particularly its dislocatedness. We are not talking about weeks or months of sublime suffering, we are talking about decades of closeness which by its very nature remains out of reach. As in the book, the museum’s 4213 cigarette butts, those that Füsun smoked when they were together and that Kemal carefully collected and treasured, become particularly poignant.

These traces, these fragments of a story, these heart-breaking exhibits of passion are displayed in cabinet 68. The display is a work of art in its own right, welcoming the visitors. It is also the only display on the street level of the museum. The first (chapters 1–51) and second (chapters 52–79) floors form a meticulously curated spatial narrative recounted by everyday objects – a miniature of a story, objects brought together, crammed next to each other in a very small space. The third floor (chapters 80–83) is an “authentic” room, in which Kemal spent the later years of his life and where Orhan patiently listened to his story. The shop downstairs sells different translations of Pamuk’s novels in addition to exhibition posters and postcards.

The museum experience is highly unique and bewildering in terms of the care with which the objects have been collected and placed on display. The building itself is typical of the area, a narrow tall townhouse. The result is intimacy that is both forced and desired, a certain failure to create a coherent whole paired with an immense need to cling to the power and impact of individual objects.

All of the objects are related to situations where Füsun was present, or are ones that she touched. Kemal has collected and kept everything, individually and separately. A summer dress, a hairbrush, keys to the attic, a Playboy cigarette lighter, bottle tops, soda bottles, a pocket watch, a teacup and saucer, a golden earring, a brooch, a radio, one empty and one still full glass of raki. In cabinet 67, there are a number of eau de cologne bottles, the prettiest of which is a crystal bottle of a scent entitled Es-ko. They all exude melancholy while constantly controlling and manipulating it.

A celebration of the ordinary

Pamuk did extensive background research for both the book and the museum. He made trips to museums dedicated to individual writers and various Cabinets of Curiosity as well as to Sir John Soane’s Museum in London and the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles. The project culminates in the museum manifesto written by Pamuk.

In his manifesto, Pamuk explains why we should move on from grandiose-scale museums to ones that latch onto the extraordinary minutiae of ordinary life. In other words, we should move away from the disciplined but imaginary constructs projected on a nationhood or a head of state – such as the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul – towards celebrating and praising the ordinariness of private individuals. The museums of the future will not be monumental, state-subsidised edifices; rather they will be events taking place in people’s homes and houses. In the end of the manifesto, Pamuk summarises his thoughts through before–now pairs:

Museum before • Museum now
Epics • Novels
Representation • Expression
Monuments • Homes
Histories • Stories
Nation • Person
Groups, Teams • The individual
Large and expensive • Small and cheap

Pamuk’s idea of anti-monumentalism is of course nothing new, as it is an integral part of the larger modernist self-reflective discourse. A case in point is Chateaubriand, the French political writer and Romanticist, who called for non-monumental museums as early as 1802.

However, stubborn dichotomy will not be helpful here any more than in things in general. Pamuk raises Kemal, an imaginary but in his imagination a very real person, onto a pedestal through the obsessive attention to detail, both in the book and the museum. Thus Pamuk – ironically – creates a unique anti-monument, which is clearly and emphatically the opposite, that is, monumental. The extravagance of detail and all-encompassing melancholy is, ultimately, awkwardly static, stagnant. It is not, and never will be, innocent.

Mika Hannula is Doctor of Political Sciences and Professor of Art Research at the University of Gothenburg.


The Helsinki Central Library will complete the public realm of the Töölönlahti area. ALA Architects’ winning design was selected from over 500 competition entries. Three experts were invited to review the winning entry and the architects were asked to share their thoughts on the area as well as their design. Here below Professor Jyrki Tasa's review.

The architecture of the winning entry is interesting and appealing. The assured lines of the building bring calm to an area where the office blocks along the railway tracks show a lot of variation. The public square is excellently demarcated and the covered “citizens’ square” is impressive. The symmetrical façade of Sanoma House suffers somewhat as the library covers a corner of it. The protruding structures respectfully exceed the limits of convention. The architecture of the interior is lively. The temple of knowledge meets the citizens’ living room in a positive way. A slightly more hybrid architectural approach would have better supported the hybrid activities of the library.

ALA Architects, Helsinki Central Library, winning competition entry, 2013

Three young Finnish architects designed a nature pavilion in the heart of London.

Camley Street Natural Park, an urban nature reserve, offers a resting place for the residents of the King’s Cross area as well as several species of birds. The purpose of the Viewpoint pavilion designed along the bank of the Regent’s Canal is to attract new visitors to the small nature park and to provide a peaceful nature experience which otherwise is rare in a big city. Local schools can also use the pavilion in their teaching operations.

The objective of the design was to introduce an architecture that increases the attraction of the park, and blends in with the unique surroundings. The sharp triangular shapes of the pavilion resemble rocky outcrops which in the open water landscape becomes a natural landmark. Beneath the triangular surfaces are sheltered lean-to-like spaces which allow views towards the park and canal. The metal-clad exterior, which resonates with the surrounding canal barges, conceals within it soft and warm wood. Birds can rest on vegetation rafts surrounding the pavilion and fish can hide within the underwater stone corrals.

The architecture of the pavilion tells about Finns’ respectful relationship with nature and their down-to-earth thinking. The building conceals many surprises, including viewing windows and a paw-print graphic concrete floor. The small scale of the pavilion has enabled a design where attention is paid to the smallest details as well as the construction of a full-scale test model, which was mounted in Finland this summer. Within the shelter, while watching the flames of the fireplace grill, it was easy to empathise with the design.

The Viewpoint project has been carried out by the Finnish Institute in London in cooperation with the Architecture Foundation. An invited architectural competition targeted at young Finnish designers was organised for the design of the pavilion, to be built for the London Wildlife Trust. Designing in the inner city of London as well as international cooperation have proved rewarding experiences.

AOR – Aarti Ollila Ristola Architecture, Viewpoint Pavilion, London 2013.

Näköislehti: Site Logic