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Young French practice wins Guggenheim Helsinki contest

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Parisian newcomer Moreau Kusunoki Architects has seen off five other finalists, including emerging UK star Asif Khan, to win the competition to design Helsinki’s new Guggenheim museum

Organised by Malcolm Reading Consultants for the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum and Foundation, the contest attracted more entries than any other architectural competition in history, receiving 1,715 submissions from nearly 80 countries.

The victorious scheme, dubbed Art in the City, features nine ‘low-lying’ pavilions and a lighthouse-like tower clad in charred timber. The jury hailed its concept for the museum’s new £100 million Finnish outpost as ‘deeply respectful of the site’ and a ‘fragmented, non-hierarchical, horizontal campus of linked pavilions where art and society could meet and inter-mingle’.

The husband-and-wife firm, which was set up in 2011 by former Shigeru Ban talent Hiroko Kusunoki and ex-Kengo Kuma architect Nicolas Moreau, takes home the €100,000 first prize.

Runners-up AGPS Architecture, Haas Cook Zemmrich STUDIO2050, SMAR Architecture Studio, Asif Khan and a collaboration between Fake Industries Architectural Agonism (Cristina Goberna, Urtzi  Grau), Jorge Lopez Conde, Carmen Blanco, Alvaro Carrillo, all netted €50,000.

The concept by London-based Khan was praised by the jury for its ‘skilful’ form and ‘strong character’ but the judges said they were unconvinced by ‘the location of the building on the site and its relationship to the city’.

The eleven-member jury was led by dean of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture Mark Wigley.

Speaking about Hiroko Kusunoki’s winning design, Wigley said. ‘The waterfront, park, and nearby urban area all have a dialogue with the loose cluster of pavilions, with people and activities flowing between them. The design is imbued with a sense of community and animation that matches the ambitions of the brief to honor both the people of Finland and the creation of a more responsive museum of the future.’

Finalists in full

  • [Winner] Moreau Kusunoki Architectes (Paris, France)
  • [Runner up] AGPS Architecture (Zurich, Switzerland and Los Angeles, United States of America)
  • Asif Khan (London, United Kingdom)
  • Fake Industries Architectural Agonism (New York, United States of America; Barcelona, Spain; and Sydney, Australia)
  • Haas Cook Zemmrich STUDIO2050 (Stuttgart, Germany)
  • SMAR Architecture Studio (Madrid, Spain and Western Australia)

The Guggenheim Helsinki Design Competition was funded entirely from private sources and organized by the Guggenheim in association with the City of Helsinki, the State of Finland, and the Finnish Association of Architects (SAFA).

According to the foundation, the future timescale for the museum will depend on the ‘Finnish stakeholders at the local and national level’ and that its funding could come from ’ both public and private sources, including the nonprofit Guggenheim Helsinki Supporting Foundation.’

Ari Lahti, chairman of the Guggenheim Helsinki Supporting Foundation, said: ‘We’re firmly convinced that a Guggenheim Helsinki would be a wise investment in the development of Helsinki itself and Finland as a whole.

‘It would strengthen our status as a design capital, convert a car park into a beautiful gathering place, provide cultural and intellectual opportunities for virtually all members of society and generate very significant direct and indirect benefits in terms of tax revenues, new economic activity, and jobs.

‘This extraordinary architectural design by Moreau Kusunoki shows us the way toward these goals, and the current financial milestone demonstrates commitment and support of this project that we hope will continue to grow.’

Intriguingly, in an AJ online poll of the anonymous entries, a huge 53.6 per cent of voters plumped for Asif Khan’s concept [scheme D]. Only 8.4 per cent choose Moreau Kusunoki Architectes’ actual winner [scheme C].

The judges’ comments

Winner: Art in the City by Moreau Kusunoki Architectes

Winner: Art in the City by Moreau Kusunoki Architectes

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 drawings were imbued with a sense of community

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.

Runner up: Two-in-one Museum by agps architecture


The jury considered this scheme to be an elegant and strong concept, absorbing the existing terminal and creating a fascinating conversation between old and new. The form and orientation of the building picked up on the strong industrial/ harbor context. The homage to the industrial
heritage of the South Harbor was applauded.

The concept of re-use of the original terminal building and the resultant architecture was well considered and polished. The scale of the building in the urban setting and its drawn-out horizontal form was striking and well balanced, although the connection between the reused terminal and the elevated gallery bar was not fully resolved.

The long upper hall would inhibit curatorial programming

The interiors were generous, even if the renderings did not communicate the full potential of the respective spaces. It was felt that the long upper open art hall offered a range of options but would ultimately inhibit curatorial programming, and that the lower reused terminal space needed
to be much more dynamically organized. But there were agreeable social touches such as the long bar.

There were strong features in this scheme and it remained in consideration until the closing decision.

Finalist: 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 unrealized 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

Finalist: Guggenheim Commons by SMAR Architecture Studio


The jury enjoyed the underlying architectural concept of the building as an engine of creativity - using the tension between street and gallery to create content and animate space.

The glowing façade, animated street and programmed spaces could be spectacular, although there were strong concerns that this scheme would not have the outcome anticipated when the climate and social conditions in Helsinki had been taken into account - (for much of the year the
street would be inhospitable).

The design failed to develop resolutions for key functional and operational issues

The elevated gallery landscapes and the interpenetration of the street and internal gallery spaces were highly appreciated. The presentation was lively and detailed, especially the models, but the design failed to develop resolutions for key functional and operational issues raised by the

Finalist: Helsinki Five by HaasCookZemmrich STUDIO2050


A landmark, architecturally-orientated museum with interesting notions about bringing green spaces to the water’s edge - a principle that was felt to
be very relevant to the future of the city.

The inner courtyard could be a very memorable space. However, the scheme relied on convoluted internal circulation and a complicated arrangement of gallery space that would be a challenge to navigate and operate without offering substantially new opportunities for curating and encountering art. The external spaces were lively yet ultimately disconnected from the building.

The scheme relied on convoluted internal circulation

The wooden shingles were an exceptionally attractive part of the design, with local relevance, but the Jjry questioned if the technical issues related to maintenance and replacement had been appropriately addressed.

Finalist: 47 Rooms by Fake Industries Architectural Agonism (Cristina Goberna, Urtzi  Grau) , Jorge Lopez Conde, Carmen Blanco, Alvaro Carrillo

Conceptually, the building offered a fascinating commentary on climate and the role of the museum in exploring this. The careful re-use of the existing buildings on site and sensitive planning of new additions was well thought-out but lacked a convincing architectural articulation.

Technically, the building structure and arrangement was well presented and the low-level, single story design was humane, responsible, flexible, and anti-monumental.

The scheme lacked a convincing architectural articulation.

Ultimately, however, it was felt that the strength and relevance of the proposition would not endure. The narrow temperature range within the normal human comfort span would need to be explained rather than be experienced and other criteria would need to drive the organization and experience.


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