The Helsinki Effect

The Helsinki Effect


But the plan does have support within the city, including from the mayor. The pro-museum crowd hopes to recreate the “Bilbao Effect,” which is credited with bringing hundreds of millions of dollars and countless tourists to the Spanish city. Doing the same in Helsinki will not be an easy task. Many cities have tried—and failed—to capture the magic that Gehry brought to Bilbao.

The Guggenheim’s Helsinki competition—its first ever on this scale—could dampen criticism if a positive consensus forms around a design proposal. Under the competition’s guidelines, the roughly 130,000-square-foot building must accommodate galleries, performance space, a café and bar, a small formal restaurant, an educational center, offices, practitioner spaces, retail, collections storage, and an outdoor sculpture garden.


“Competitors were asked to submit innovative and creative designs demonstrating strong connections to Helsinki’s historic city center, South Harbor, and its urban context while reflecting Nordic ideals,” explained the competition’s organizers.

The Guggenheim Foundation has announced that the competition’s six short-listed designs will be unveiled in December, following review from an 11-member jury, which includes Mark Wigley and Jeanne Gang. The competition winner will be selected in June and, following the announcement, the City of Helsinki and the Finnish Government will decide whether to proceed with the proposal. The winning team will receive about $136,000 for its work and about $75,000 will go to each of five runners-up.

In September, when the first stage of the competition closed, Guggenheim representatives touted the global response it received for the project. “When we launched the competition for the design of the proposed Guggenheim Helsinki, we hoped that it would inspire architects everywhere—emerging and established alike—to imagine what the museum of the 21st century could be and catalyze a global exchange of ideas about architecture and its traditions, urbanism, public buildings, and the future of cities,” said Guggenheim director Richard Armstrong in a statement. “We are awed and humbled by the tremendous response to the call for entries, and we look forward to engaging in a full and public exploration of the submissions in the coming months.”

The Guggenheim’s competition did more than attract entries from 77 countries, it spawned “The Next Helsinki”—a rival competition that hopes to undercut the Guggenheim’s claim on the city’s South Harbor. “[T]he Guggenheim Foundation has launched a design competition on one of Helsinki’s most valuable and compelling physical sites for a new Guggenheim building, in hopes of a transformation akin to the ‘miracle’ in Spain,” said competition organizers in a statement. “The City of Helsinki is tempted to spend hundreds of millions of municipal euros in return for the benefits of the branding of the city with someone else’s mark.”

That competition, which was created by independent arts organizations, is open to just about anyone who has an idea for development at the site.

The debate over the Guggenheim’s envisioned Helsinki museum comes only a few months after the foundation was forced to defend its plans to build a Gehry-designed museum on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, where workers face notoriously dangerous conditions. In response to that criticism, the Guggenheim Foundation and Gehry Partners have pledged to improve working conditions, but critics say that will be much easier said than done.

On Saadiyat Island, Gehry’s structure will be joined by new works from Zaha Hadid, Tadao Ando, and Jean Nouvel.