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Guggenheim Helsinki. © Moreau Kusunoki. ArtefactoryLab

Introducing the New Guggenheim Museum in Helsinki! 0

Agnese Čivle

The identity of No. GH-04380895 has been revealed as the year-long Guggenheim Helsinki Design Competition has run its course. The Guggenheim Foundation, the Country of Finland, the City of Helsinki, and an international panel of judges assembled by the Finnish Association of Architects (SAFA) reviewed all 1715 Stage One submissions in terms of each one's ability to create an integral and meaningful presence of the Guggenheim Museum in the urban landscape of Helsinki.

Read More In Our Archives: The Shortlist for the Guggenheim Helsinki Design Competition. Q&A with Troy Conrad Therrien, Curator of Architecture and Digital Initiatives, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

In spring of this year, all of the submissions were presented at Helsinki's Taidehalli art space, but the public could acquaint themselves with the projects of the six finalists selected for the short list in the form of an interactive game. The names of the finalists were not revealed – each project on the short list that was given over to public review was identified only with an anonymous reference number. A wide variety of design philosophies and building types was represented in the final six – from towers to pavilions, from the transformation of extant buildings to performative and unusual design objects.

Hiroko Kusunoki and Nicolas Moreau. Photo: © Julien Weill 

On June 23 the winner of the competition was announced – project No. GH-04380895 – a museum made up of multiple sweeping structures and a glass‐topped tower inspired by the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, all clad in glossy black wood and connected to open areas that flow into the city-space. The authors of this project were Nicolas Moreau and Hiroko Kusunoki, a husband‐and‐wife architectural team who have practiced in Paris under the nam Moreau Kusunoki Architectes since 2011.

Moreau and Kusunoki revealed that they had already used a approach similar to the one seen in their Guggenheim proposal when working on the new Theatre of Beauvais and the University of Savoie engineering school, as well as on the Budapest National Gallery. In these they also utilized a framework of several pavilions with “in-between” spaces that give the public opportunity to move freely between the inside and outside of the building. As to why they avoided designing a building with a massive, homogenous and hermetic structure, the architect duo describe their vision so: Museum galleries need a particularly controlled atmosphere in terms of hygrometry and light. That is why most of the galleries’ walls have to be opaque. Also, the fragmented approach allows the combination of controlled and opaque rooms (the art galleries) and the in‐between spaces that provide promenades and views of the surroundings landscape. Our concept is intended to invite the public to enter into dialogue with the art, the architecture, and the site.

Moreau Kusunoki 

The competition's call for entries specified that the new museum must create a vital and meaningful presence in the urban environment, and that it must respect its location – the strategically convenient southern part of the city's harbor (Eteläsatama), where the figure of the new museum would be the first thing to draw the eye of visitors arriving by sea. This led to the architects having to deal with the following issues: How can we make the museum transparent? How can we create a porosity between the museum and its surroundings to allow a free flow of visitors on the site? “Those were our goals throughout the project. Also, the site borders the sea, so we were advised to avoid creating a basement. As a result, the operation areas of the museum are, by necessity, located on the ground floor. We decided to integrate those areas into the visitor experience.”

© Moreau Kusunoki. ArtefactoryLab

Architectural Secrets of the Museum Designed by Moreau Kusunoki Architectes

 A Dialog With the Urban Environment

In terms of materiality, the design will offer a rich contrast with the white Helsinki Cathedral, and with the granite and brick commonly used for the city’s 19th‐century buildings. In terms of urban continuity, the museum’s grid is inspired by the city’s urban fabric, and the village-like composition creates a natural prolongation of the harbor promenade. Also, the bridge that connects Observatoriebergets Park to the museum’s rooftop would extend access to the harbor. The museum’s tower also echoes other vertical elements within the cityscape: the steeples of Saint Henry’s Cathedral, the German Church, and Unspenski Cathedral, as well as the domes of Senate Square and the city’s smokestacks.

© Moreau Kusunoki. ArtefactoryLab


The use of charred wood is strongly anchored in traditional timber construction in Finland. There is also a culture of charred timber, called yakisugi, in Japan. It is a traditional technique that reinforces the wood and makes it more resistant to water and fire. It is very beautiful as well, especially when it has aged and developed a shiny patina. Wood may not be as strong as concrete, but it’s in the cycle of nature, and harvesting and re‐planting trees makes the forests stronger.

© Moreau Kusunoki. ArtefactoryLab


The general horizontal layout simplifies maintenance, maximizes the heat gain from the sun, and allows for as much natural light as possible from the skylights in the galleries. Also, the envelope performance has been carefully designed with triple glazing and efficient insulation layers in order to minimize as much as possible the consumption of energy for heating. The use of natural materials is another key factor in making the design sustainable.

When asked what the architect duo believes is the predominant factor that sets this project apart from the architectural execution of any other building, Nicolas Moreau and Hiroko Kusunoki reply: “Most people today are looking for a unique experience when they go to a museum. Art is part of that experience, but architecture also has to play its role in creating that special moment that the visitor is expecting to feel. That is why museums are so unusual compared to other buildings.”