Hell and Helsinki

One of six finalists in the Guggenheim Helsinki contest. (Guggenheim Foundation)

One of six finalists in the Guggenheim Helsinki contest. (Guggenheim Foundation)

The 1,715 entries to the international design competition for a Guggenheim museum in Helsinki have been winnowed down to six, an entirely predictable six. I must admit I have not finished my cruise through the original entries. I have informed readers that an entry of traditional style was submitted. It is not among the finalists. Whether there were any other traditional entries seems likely just by dint of the law of averages.

Another finalist. (Guggenheim Foundation)

Another finalist. (Guggenheim Foundation)

But probably not. Anyway, the six finalists are what you would expect, no two of them seeming to hark from the same mind, or planet. Kriston Capps of Atlantic CityLab, in “Here Are the Top 6 Designs for the Guggenheim Helsinki, and They’re All a Bad Idea,” cites the arithmetic of Taller de Casqueria, a Spanish architectural cooperative, which figured that if the judges spent a paltry five minutes per entry, the deliberations would have taken 142 hours. That’s a lot of time for a panel of judges to spend together. Capps adds that the architects spent an average of $12,000 per entry, which means the Guggenheim Foundation snookered them into doing $23 million of work for free.

But Capps surprised me, and sent me to seventh heaven, by describing the gridded gallery into which the 1,715 entries were arrayed, then asserting that “the sum of the contest didn’t celebrate the diversity of design. It made a mockery of architecture.” That must be the understatement of the week! He quotes a Finnish organization that’s running a counter-competition, The Next Helsinki: “However different in detail, the starting point for the competition is the creation of a landmark building with little or no connection to the local context and the urban fabric as a whole.” The illustration on top of this post bears that out.

Capps had other astute criticisms of the contest and its results. The piece deserves to be read in its entirety. Of course, that means indulging in a bit of masochism, for the piece features illustrations of all six finalists.

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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1 Response to Hell and Helsinki

  1. Tim Lehnert says:

    The designs are interesting, although as Capps points out, not much to do with Helsinki. This is part of an even bigger issue where global cultural “brands” like Guggenheim, and athletic ones like FIFA and the Olympics, run roughshod over their local hosts. These supranational organizations are allowed to dictate outrageous terms to their local “partners,” who cede sovereignty and lots of cash for the privilege of such an association. I don’t half mind some of the designs, but how about some modesty from the architects, a little consideration of the local style and culture. Finns, don’t be afraid to assert yourselves, you have given us many great classical musicians and hockey goaltenders, not to mention some pretty prominent architects as well.


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