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Location: Helsinki, Finland
Year: 2016

Like few other international cities, Helsinki is subject to extreme durations and intensities of daylight and darkness for much of the year. Our first concern was to find a way to use this condition of excess as a way not only to create a sustainable building, but also to bear directly on the visitor’s experience of the museum, regardless of the season. In addition, while Guggenheim museum buildings are typically iconic objects that act as magnets, both the prominent waterfront site and the building scale of Helsinki demand an urban architecture that generates a dialogue between the object, its context, and its users.  

To produce an experience rather than an iconic object, we extended and overlaid the two dominant grid structures of Helsinki on the north-south linear site. This creates a diagrammatic structural datum that serves as the basis for an overlay of functional volumes. These volumes produce a series of horizontal sections, which are fractured in such a way that there is no dominant formal order other than the directional shape of the site. This results in three scales of galleries, each determined by size, section, and the need for light, and various means of movement to and through them.  

Two exterior ramps link the museum to the city: one is a north-south linear axis that runs along the west side of the museum, linking the city to the parkland south of the site; the other is a girding circular ramp that links to the promenade and penetrates the building but does not allow for entry into it. This route is similar to the urban passage through Jim Stirling’s museum at Stuttgart, which runs through the building. Glazing along the sides of the circular ramp allows views into the galleries and natural light to enter the center of the building; on long dark days, interior illumination lights the exterior path. This is one way we work with the excess of light and darkness in Helsinki.

The Guggenheim Helsinki is an agent of change: an experience building with multiple points of accessibility and a variety of uses that invite both city residents and tourists to interact with the waterfront building in the same ways they interact with the city itself.