Yesterday morning, the city board of Helsinki voted 10-5 in favor of reserving a plot of land for a new Guggenheim museum in the Eteläsatama neighborhood, after rejecting an original $185 million proposal in May 2012. Helsinki city board members announced an upcoming call for entries to develop a relatively small-sized parking lot into the world-renowned Guggenheim Foundation's next major institution. According to news outlets, the city board will hold the site for two years while searching for a suitable design.
The Guggenheim has a history of favoring grandiose, formalistic solutions for its museum buildings. Frank Lloyd Wright's expressive spiral design was praised as a deeply personal alternative to modernism, while Frank Gehry's glittering Guggenheim in Bilbao inaugurated an era of urban renewal through investment in mega-projects.
Guggenheim Museum, Frank Lloyd Wright, photo via
But in a post-recession global economy the Gehry model of expensive, and sometimes contextually unsympathetic museum design is slowly becoming obsolete. Instead, newer institutions such as Rudy Riciotti's MuCEM in Marseilles and Mecanoo's Kaap Skil, Maritime, and Beachcombers Museum in the Netherlands have found success by approaching design from a more thoughtful, locally sensitive scheme—without the need to implement a "brand aesthetic."
Helsinki, photo via
Former World Design Capital Helsinki—with its rich architectural heritage and forward-thinking history of urban planning—demands a contemporary museum devoid of the need to assert its presence. As the Guggenheim's announcement cements the city's future as the next global art nucleus, here are the architects we think are up to the challenge.
The Environmentally Sensitive Designer
Wang Shu, Ningbo Museum, photo via
Perhaps the greatest challenge for the designer of Helsinki's Guggenheim comes in fitting the museum into Helsinki's distinctive urban scene. With his reputation for blending contemporary building strategies with China's rich architectural tradition, Pritzker winner Wang Shu possesses the prowess to design timeless buildings that forgo the outlandish formal practice of his contemporaries.
Wang Shu, Ningbo Museum of Art, photo via
Instead, Shu's critical regionalist approach draws inspiration from local surroundings, recycling discarded building materials to offer a distinct yet reverent style that could be adapted to Helsinki, and would be Shu's first permanent project in Europe.
SO-IL, Kukje Gallery, photo via
Every architectural competition has its underdogs, which brings us to the young design duo of SO-IL's Jing Liu and Florian Idenburg. After meeting in 2000 while working at SANAA, Liu and Idenburg have quickly garnered acclaim for their ability to merge the fields of art and architecture with a rigorous approach to urban design.
SO-IL, Pole Dance, photo via
Following their founding in 2008, Liu and Idenburg won MoMA PS1's Young Architects Program with their Pole Dance adult playground, completed the site-sensitive Kukje Gallery in a low-rise neighborhood of Seoul, and were recently selected to design the tent facilities for New York's Frieze Art Fair. With a Guggenheim Museum commission SO-IL has the opportunity to establish itself as a competitive force on an international scale.
Snøhetta, Lillehammer Art Museum, photo via
With offices in Oslo and New York, and major projects around Europe, North America, and Northern Africa, Snøhetta has developed a reputation for bringing a contemporary Nordic design aesthetic to an international level. With a track record of design conceived as a social and environmental act, rather than a stationary formal object, along with consistent fiscally responsible solutions, Snøhetta has earned large cultural commissions like the softly undulating wood-clad Lillehammer Art Museum in Norway, and more recently, the expansion to San Francisco's SFMOMA.
Snøhetta, SFMOMA Expansion, photo via
Unlike Gehry's eye-catching Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, and FLW's imposing spiral-shaped Guggenheim, Snøhetta's familiarity with designing imaginative museums from a social and environmental perspective gives the firm the capacity to adapt the Guggenheim brand into an economically and contextually sensible framework.
The Veteran Without a Big Museum
OMA, Guggenheim Hermitage Museum, photo via
Has there ever been a better time for Rem Koolhaas to shine? While the internationally renowned architect already has a Pritzker Prize and buildings like the Seattle Public Library and CCTV headquarters under his belt, OMA has lost both the expansion of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City as well as the master plan for the Brooklyn Academy of Music cultural district. Not to mention the architect's small Guggenheim Hermitage Museum gallery in Las Vegas closed down. This might just be the Dutch architect's opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Frank Lloyd Wright and Frank Gehry and realize his cultural temple—as long as he can modify his often imposing aesthetic to Helsinki's local scale.
The New Kid on the Block
PARC Office, Museo Gucci, photo via
Designing a new museum in a world where the traditional, static gallery has been challenged by the increasing presence of information and technology demands a firm that's not afraid of innovation and experimentation. Look no further than Brooklyn's PARC Office, a self-described "atypical" team of interdisciplinary professionals who find spatial solutions by synthesizing political, economic, social, technological, environmental, and cultural factors. While relatively under the radar, PARC's out-of-the-box thinking has led the firm to collaborate with Google for its clandestine Google Cultural Institute Headquarters, and with Gucci on its recently completed Museo Gucci, the first museum dedicated to the luxury brand's history.
Cover photo: Jnn13 via Wiki Commons