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Helsinki poll casts doubts over Guggenheim approval


Only half a dozen City of Helsinki councillors have confirmed they will support the high-profile Guggenheim museum project

Only six out of 69 councillors contacted by the Helsinki Times said they would approve the scheme going ahead and being mostly paid for from the public purse.  

A total of 31 councillors opposed the contentious South Harbour scheme – which is estimated to cost £90 million – and 32 declined to comment.

Parisian newcomer Moreau Kusunoki Architects defeated five rival finalists to win the competition to design Helsinki’s new Guggenheim museum last week (23 June).

The city council – which has 85 permanent members – is expected to make a final decision on the high-profile scheme early next year.

Opposition has mostly focussed on the project’s cost to the public purse however criticism of the winning design’s appearance has also emerged.

Osku Pajamaki, vice chair of Helsinki’s execuctive board, told The New York Times: ‘The symbol of the lighthouse is arrogant in the middle of the historical centre.

He continued: ‘It’s like you would put a Guggenheim museum next to Notre Dame in Paris. People are approaching from the sea, and the first thing that they will see is that the citizens of Helsinki bought their identity from the Guggenheim.’

Advocates of the scheme however claim it could generate around £36 million a year for the local economy and deliver 500 new jobs.

Guggenheim Museum and Foundation director Richard Armstrong said: ‘The so-called cost amortizes out very quickly in terms of net tax increase, not to mention the intangibles, which are frequently change of perception of the venue and willingness on the part of other investors to look at a site.

He continued: ‘We’re not saying the Bilbao effect will be totally replicated; we’re saying that’s our history — the payback is really quite rapid.’

Commenting in response to the Helsinki Times poll, a Guggenheim spokesperson said: ‘It is too early to speculate about whether there is necessary support for the development of the proposed Guggenheim Helsinki as the local stakeholders have not yet defined the model on which a decision would be based.’

The statement continued: ‘From numerous discussions with a wide range of stakeholders over four years, the Guggenheim is confident that the Finnish decision-makers at all levels will fully consider the financial and cultural benefits of the proposed museum.’

The design competition – organised by Malcolm Reading Consultants – was launched in June 2014 after the city’s governing board earmarked a waterfront plot for the project.

An earlier proposal for the museum was shelved by the same board in 2012 amid concerns over the project’s cost. A poll of city residents found 75 per cent opposed the scheme.

The Guggenheim Foundation subsequently put forward a second proposal featuring a ten per cent reduction in operating and administrative costs which was approved by the city board in January 2014.


Readers' comments (4)

  • Helsinki when approached from the sea has a very beautiful waterfront townscape , the Market Square with its 19c white stone and stucco buildings as a backdrop with the Cathedral peeking up behind , the end of the park of Esplanadi to the left and the well considered brilliant masterpiece of Aalto's Enzo Gutzeit Hq building to the left also in white stone ( marble ) and the red brick and stone Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral peering over from behind .
    This proposed Guggenheim Museum , with its dark materials is a complete affront to the city and its citizens and architectural historical context .
    Hopefully the City Councillors will vote NO !

    John Meagher , FRIAI RIBA .

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  • PS , apologies I mean Enzo Gutzeit to the RIGHT !

    John Meagher .

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  • Helsinki is nothing like Bilbao, and although both cities share the experience of 21st century redundancy and re-invention, in Bilbao it was the heavy industrial raison d'etre of the city that was melting away, whereas in Helsinki it's the migration of shipping activity from the original 'downtown' waterfronts out to the new harbour to the east that has left a relatively small, but prominent, void in the city's built fabric.
    Helsinki just doesn't need a Guggenheim intervention in the way that Bilbao did, and the city councillors are absolutely right to question the impact of this proposals - I'm surprised if no-one raised the overall darkness of all the cladding - the forms are reminiscent of the Mareel Arts centre in Lerwick, at the same latitude - bur there the architects had the good sense to resist the current fashion for overall drab.

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  • I think that this the winner is strongest of the shortlisted entries, and the drawings indicate the the designers have talent. But I agree that the light house is at best a kitsch joke and inappropriate for its context and use. In fact it's a symptom of the illiterate approach towards urban architectural design that afflicts almost all people involved in making and commissioning civic buildings at the moment. This is probably because it requires modesty and also courage, and a sense of what is appropriate - what used to be called decorum. This attitude doesn't sit well with the neo-liberal fantasy of individuality. There's a lot of guff spoken about creativity being the apotheosis of individuality at the moment. And you can see why those engaged in fields in which creativity is repressed e.g. Finance, are attracted to the myth of art and architecture as a sort of asocial will to power / will to form. You can see why they like the idea of architecture I mean. It helps that it makes money too of course. It doesn't help that art and architecture are elided into a similarly autonomous activity, and the idea that architects are like artists is clearly hokum. What's more, the analogy doesn't even ring true, artists don't work in isolation and the most successful today tend to be engaged with questions of perception and place e.g. Olafur Elliason. Architects tend to focus instead on the image of the artist as an idiot savant, and of their work as expressions of singular moments of genius: and this is an easy brand to market and for developers and municipal clients to incorporate into their own branding.
    In terms of Helsinki, it doesn't look like this sort of thinking is working, and the Finns - even their politicians - seems to be largely inoculated against BS. The approach from the sea is something that is very difficult to get right in any city, and in Helsinki the sea elevation is primary as it was designed to be seen, as it were, from St Petersburg; or at least from a ship. I don't think we got it completely right, but the role that The Guggenheim could play in this townscape was high in our minds when we worked on our competition entry last summer. The predominant type on the waterfront is palatial, and this enables hotels, government blocks and apartment buildings to sit within the original neo-classical character of the sea front. if it's good enough for Aalto…. Etc. If anybody is interested they can download our competition boards here:
    Patrick Lynch PhD RIBA

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