Asif Khan, the 34-year-old star leading the only UK team in the frame for Helsinki’s new Guggenheim museum, talks to the AJ on being shortlisted for one of the world’s most high-profile projects
What was your reaction when you heard the news?
One of complete disbelief. In a way we had resigned ourselves that it was one for the shelf. Just a source of ideas for other things – we had discussed it as a studio and had put it to bed.
You have been shortlisted from more than 1,700 entrants. What does it mean for your practice?
This is a massive step for us. But we have been preparing – we are so ready.
We have been trying to carve out our own architectural language through lots of temporary projects, always wishing one day it would coalesce into something permanent.
On the one hand this is new territory, but on the other hand we have been training for this moment. It is like going to war. This feels like the moment I’ve been working for since setting up seven years ago.’
How much effort have you put into this?
We worked solidly on this [for four weeks from the beginning of August until submission]. At one point we had six people on it. It was quite an emotional journey.
But competitions are not just about the time spent, but the sense of meaning you can bring. You have to believe in what you are doing – it is more than just an image. There has to be something deeper – an attachment to place.
What happens next?
We are going to work our arses off.
This concept is very much a starting point – it is the beginning. There is refinement to do now. The core language is there but there are all the details of how people will experience it. It is a huge mountain to conquer, but we are ready to take this challenge.
How have you felt about the competition process?
The shortlisting decision [and the anonymous process] restores my belief in the value and currency of ideas as opposed to architectural brand.
The anonymity of the process allowed [the jury] to reach beyond the normal lens through which architecture is seen.
It is now going to be a huge pleasure to work an idea through to rediscover all those details.We have entered so many competitions this year and haven’t had a chance to do that. So that is going to be enormously cathartic moment.
What are your connections to Finland?
I’ve been visiting Finland with my wife for the last 10 years. I have a familiarity with the place. So this shortlisting comes with a sense of responsibility to my friends here.
It feels in a way a lot closer to home than normally [when we do contests]. We are doing this for everyone in a way.