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Asif Khan: 'I have 100 per cent belief in what we proposed'

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The only UK finalist in the competition to design Helsinki’s new Guggenheim museum, Asif Khan, talks about narrowly missing out to French newcomer Moreau Kusunoki Architects

Yesterday (23 June) the Parisian firm was announced as the winner of the biggest architectural competition in history, receiving 1,715 submissions from nearly 80 countries.

The AJ caught up with Khan, who is best known for his Coca Cola Beatbox pavilion at the London 2012 Olympics, to discuss the experience.

Asif Khan

How would you describe the overall experience of entering and then being shortlisted for one of the biggest architectural competitions in history?
On one hand what I experienced was the excitement of being part of the global discussion on architecture and on the other, knowing Helsinki well, I felt an added responsibility to make a scheme which was right for the people and place. I was delighted for my voice to be part of the conversation.

What do you think about the winning design?
It is quite a trend in museum projects internationally to work with a similar typology of fragments. It will be interesting to see how this particular city and the historic waterfront will benefit from this proposal. 

Would you have done anything differently if you had your chance again?
I knew the site for many years and worked closely with local collaborators. I have 100 percent belief in what we proposed. 

Do you think the judges’ comments about your scheme were fair (see below) and how did you find the competition process?
The judges were from a wide variety of backgrounds and the competition was strictly anonymous. The set up was organised to give an equal chance to everyone, and this can be seen in the variety of the shortlist. I hope there will be more competitions like this that young architects can be a part of.

Quiet Animal by Asif Khan - model for Guggenheim Helsinki

What do you think you have learned from this? Will it change how you enter/bid for other competitions?
The experience has really grown the studio. I mean this both in terms of our architectural thinking and in the way we operate as a team of practitioners.

Do you think this contest will [or indeed has] open up doors for you with other clients/in other sectors?
I hope so…

Do you think the winning scheme will be built?
I’m curious too.

Judges’ comments: Quiet Animal by Asif Khan


The jury enjoyed the iconic representation of the building, which was beautifully rendered and presented. The identity of the slip-glazed form was unique and could be a fascinating addition to the waterfront. The technical analysis of structure and cladding were impressive and persuasive. The form of the building was skillful and had a strong character.

The scheme was full of promise

However, it was felt that the location of the building on the site and its relationship to the city were not convincing. The roof’s unrealised potential as a public space and the positioning of the fence were perceived as shortcomings. This led the jury to question if the scheme had developed holistically since Stage One. The grand hall offered an interesting social potential. The jury felt the scheme was full of promise


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