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A Museum of the Future: Proposed Guggenheim Helsinki by Moreau Kusunoki

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on July 08, 2015 at 03:16 PM

The past ten days have seen the design world abuzz with the news of Moreau Kusunoki Architects winning the mega design competition for the Guggenheim Helsinki Museum with their stunning yet sensitive proposal. Adding to the buzz is the talk around the procedure adopted by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in conducting the competition and selecting the winner, which maintained the anonymity of the participants till the end. The foundation had made it clear from the beginning of their venture that this time, instead of commissioning a ‘starchitect’ as they are usually known to, they would be looking out for young, relatively unknown firms to design the winning proposal. True to their word, most of the 200 preliminarily selected firms were hardly well known at a global level. Moreover, in an unprecedented anonymous procedure, the entries were number coded and participants’ names withheld from even the jury till the final selection was done. Satisfactorily for the organisers, the mega competition which focussed on designs rather than on firms resulted in a fountainhead of refreshing designs, with Moreau Kusunoki proving to have the cutting edge.

© Courtesy of Internet Resources

The Winning Team (image 1)

Out of the 200 participants selected initially from a whopping 1715 participants from 77 countries around the world, six made it to the final shortlist out of which the French firm headed by architects Nicolas Moreau and Hiroko Kusunoki has emerged the final winner. This young firm founded in Paris in 2011 has since notably, to its credit, leaned towards taking up culture based design projects. Their portfolio includes Théâtre de Beauvaisis in Beauvais (image 2), the House of Cultures and Memories in Cayenne (image 3), the Polytechnic School of Engineering in Bourget-du-Lac, and the plaza for the Paris District Court (designed by Renzo Piano) at the Porte de Clichy (image 4). This experience in designing for culture and heritage has clearly come to the fore in their Guggenheim Helsinki proposal. Kusunoki, after completing her degree Shibaura Institute of Technology in Tokyo, began her career working with Shigeru Ban. Moreau studied architecture at Ecole Nationale d’Architecture de Belleville in Paris and went on to work initially with studios of SANAA and Kengo Kuma. The two left Tokyo for Paris in 2008 where Moreau set up Kengo Kuma’s France office. The team at Moreau Kusunaki is culturally diverse, thus enabling a refreshingly diverse and sensitive perspective to all projects taken up by them.

The Winning Design (images 5 to 14)

Moreau Kusunoki’s proposed Guggenheim Museum at Helsinki is at first appearance a charcoal black chimney shaped, sea facing lookout tower, brightly light at the top floor, with a group of smaller charcoal black pavilions arranged near it, all linked by a continuous, transparent ground floor. Set against the predominantly white facades of all the buildings in the background and the mist rising from the sea in front, this first look of ‘Art in the City’, as the concept has been named, itself is quite impactful, if not mesmerizing. 

The design proposal lays emphasis on the physical and geographical context in which the visitors would be experiencing the museum, as much as the display of exhibits. A museum usually requires specific heat, temperature and humidity controls to preserve the exhibits, naturally resulting in a large closed building. Contrarily, Moreau Kusunoki have not only fragmented the museum into 9 pavilions, they have chosen to open up each pavilion on all sides by way of a glass envelope. This ensures that as the visitors observe the exhibits or cross over from one pavilion to the other, they never lose sight of their context and are always acutely aware of being in Helsinki, on this spectacular sea facing site. 

The spaces between the pavilions also accommodate the creation of plazas and promenades, essential to a public place and specially for a cultural centre, conducive to interactions and reflections by visitors. This cluster of pavilions would be connected to the nearby Observatory Park by a new pedestrian footbridge and served by a promenade along Helsinki’s South Harbor. This arrangement, as the jury chairperson Mark Wigley observed, serves to create a dialogue between the museum and its surrounding neighbourhood, harbour and Helsinki as a whole, justifying the name ‘Art in the City’.

Another edge this design gets is from its ecological sensitivity, specially displayed in choice of materials. The facade is proposed to be clad in charred timber and glass, both locally sourced. The scale of the exhibition spaces inside is enormous and so is the size of the rooftop glazing, letting in huge shafts of daylight. 

A visitor to this Guggenheim museum in Helsinki should clearly be awestruck to witness each creative masterpiece set against the colossal museum space opening out into beautiful Helsinki harbour, to where the sea and the sky melt into the horizon. To be aware of the unending and all consuming nature of the universe that surrounds us, yet be arrested by the power of the creative mind encapsulated in a single piece of art would indeed be a singular experience.

Now that the privately funded competition held by the Guggenheim foundation has drawn to a close, the Finnish stakeholders at local and national levels are expected to take off from here to coordinate the design development and final execution of the museum with the Guggenheim Foundation and Moreau Kusunoki Architects. ‘Art in the City’ also won the popular vote, in addition to that of the jury, as indicated by the results of a poll conducted while the six finalists’ designs were on display. The charred timber exterior is said to represent the regeneration of a forest which, after burning, grows back stronger. The winning design is eco-sensitive, fragmented, non hierarchial, open and communicative; the winning team has a multi cultural composition, high socio cultural and ecological sensitivity and a contemporary approach. All these attributes are indicative of a strong design world in the future: at once global and diverse.

Jury Statement

The scheme proposed a collection of linked pavilions, each orientated to respect the city grid, and anchored by a lookout tower. The building would cohere around a covered street landscape that expanded and contracted according to its interaction with the discrete pavilions and is animated by different activities. The Jury found the design deeply respectful of the site and setting, creating a fragmented, non-hierarchical, horizontal campus of linked pavilions where art and society could meet and inter-mingle. The connections between the pavilions have been well considered to permit a continuous gallery experience, if required. The waterfront, park, and city each had a dialogue with the building yet the forms and materials were distinctive and contemporary, without being iconic. The drawings were imbued with a sense of community and animation that matched the ambitions of the brief to honour both the people of Finland, and the creation of the museum of the future.It was recognized that further work would be needed to resolve vertical circulation, use of the main terrace, and the construction of the roof, but these issues were considered to be a normal part of design development, and the Jury had confidence in the strength of the design concept. The concept is extremely flexible and is designed to embrace evolving urban, museum, and technological requirements.

Designer : Moreau Kusunoki Architects
Photography :Internet Sources

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