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Guggenheim Helsinki Plans Sunk by Council

Monday, December 5, 2016

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Plans for a Guggenheim Museum in Helsinki, Finland, look to be dead in the water after the capital’s city council voted early Thursday (Dec. 1) to reject the proposal once and for all.

The council voted 53 to 32 to quash the controversial waterfront museum plan, which was first proposed by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in 2011. The most recent version of the project was set to cost the city of Helsinki up to $89 million, with an additional $55 million coming from private investors.

Guggenheim Helsinki rendering
Moreau Kusunoki

Paris-based firm Moreau Kusunoki Architectes won the competition, beating out over 1,700 other entries, with its design featuring a charred-timber facade.

It’s not the first rejection for the museum proposal, though it appears it will be the last. The first plan for the building was rejected by city officials in 2012, at which point the museum’s proponents regrouped, soliciting a new design via an international competition.

Design and Critics

Paris-based firm Moreau Kusunoki Architectes won the competition, beating out over 1,700 other entries, with its design, featuring a charred-timber facade, that the jury called “a collection of linked pavilions, each orientated to respect the city grid, and anchored by a lookout tower.”

Critics of the design said the dark wood clashed with the image of the capital as the “White City of the North,” and some worried that the new building, with its lighthouse tower, would take away from the harbor area’s older architecture.

“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,” the vice chairman of the city’s executive board told The New York Times when the design was unveiled.

State Funding Blocked

In September, though, the plan ran into resistance when one of Finland’s ruling parties, the Finns party, declared that it would block government funding for the building. Some citizens had expressed concern that considerable public funds were being proposed for the project when the country’s economy has been struggling. Supporters argued the museum would drive tourism in Helsinki, as the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Bilbao has in that Spanish city.

Guggenheim Bilbao
By PA, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Supporters had hoped a Guggenheim in Helsinki would drive tourism as the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Bilbao has done in that Spanish city.

In addition to Bilbao, there is a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Guggenheim in New York City, and the Guggenheim-affiliated Peggy Guggenheim collection in Venice. A Guggenheim Museum in Berlin closed in late 2012, and a proposed Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi, in the works for several years, has yet to open.

Latest Regrouping

The latest Helsinki proposal, which shifted the funding burden to the city and private investors, came together in November. Part of the deal reduced the licensing fee that would be paid to the Guggenheim Foundation—a sticking point for critics—from $20 million to $10 million, over 20 years.

But the plan wasn’t enough to push the proposal through council, which deliberated long into the night Wednesday (Nov. 30), eventually reaching its decision early Thursday.

Ari Lahti, who chaired the foundation that was seeking to get the museum built, told The Guardian he was disappointed.

“This was an important project and I continue to believe the museum would have benefited Finland and Helsinki,” he told the newspaper. “But yes, I am afraid that now the whole proposal has pretty much collapsed.”


Tagged categories: Architects; Architecture; Color + Design; Design; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Europe; Funding; Government; Museums

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