International architectural design competition, Helsinki, August - September 2014

Each ray of sunlight is used to shape this building so that no sunlight is wasted. The unique solar conditions in Helsinki invite challenging and dynamic considerations that have played an imperative role in this design.

Just like the sun above us, our building also floats, tracing the solar path throughout the year. The result is a beautiful and seemingly sculptural free form, derived from the precise movement of the sun in relation to the site. Light dances in between the upper and lower part of the building, marking the void defined by longest and shortest days of the year.

Through this celestial connection, the museum begins its daily interaction with its surroundings across a myriad of scales. Day and night, this museum is a part of Helsinki’s geographical and cultural fabric. The building is situated in the front of a harbor, and its outer boundaries are parallel to the Western part of the Helsinki grid.

This museum forms a network that ties into its surroundings by offering visitors simultaneous views of art and the environment.

The building stands as an observatory that actively engages the viewer and orients one’s own relationship with the greater environment. Much like the climb to the Jantar Mantar astronomical instruments in Jaipur, circulating through our building gives visitors, artists, and staff a strong sense of place, being one with the city, the Baltic Sea, and the cosmos. After sunset, visitors can discover Polaris by gazing through a telescopic channel that runs through the core of the building. This thin, cylindrical void is also the core of a grand curvilinear staircase that links the ground and upper gallery spaces while activating both the inside and outside surfaces of the building. In contrast, there is also a straight stairwell situated high above the lobby connecting the two volumes directly.

The two cones never touch, allowing the sun to pass between them and reach the lobby floor at all times, casting ever-changing shadows throughout the space.

The openness of the vaulted spaces enhances the viewing experience of the museum’s collection, as well as exposing the building’s unique structural nature. The vaulted roof protects the artwork from direct sunlight while its sheltering shape flows down towards earth. Meanwhile the bowl shaped upper volume reaches towards the sky, creating an ideal floor for a slanted auditorium where seating ascends like contour lines on a landscape.

A museum has to have a strong recognizable character and at the same time needs to be flexible in its ability to accommodate all types of exhibitions and happenings. In the earth-bound volume we offer a café, museum store, offices as well as a range of concentrated chapel-like project spaces designated for open plan shows. In the floating volume, an auditorium hosts performances, lectures and discussions while a roof sculpture terrace, fine dining restaurant, and cocktail bar invites visitors to enjoy heightened perspectives across the city and beyond.

Museums are about understanding our society and culture in relationship to our planet and the universe; our proposal strives towards capturing this dynamic experience.

Project team: Andras Balla, Joana Bem-Haja, Sofia Pia Belenky, Alessandra Calaguire, Ryan Day, Luis Marques, Francisco Rocha, Sandra Shizuka.

Engineers: Knippers Helbig Inc., Hauke Jungjohann, Guillaume Evain, Florian Meier

Guggenheim Helsinki - An Art Observatory