Guggenheim Goes to Finland

HELSINKI -- The Guggenheim has become something of a brand over the years, with satellite locations in Venice and Bilbao, Spain, and one planned in Abu Dhabi. Now the museum’s proposed branch in Helsinki, Finland, is a step closer to reality, with the selection of a design that features charred timber and glass punctuated by a lighthouse-like tower overlooking South Harbor.

Art collectors of Art Kabinett social media network are looking forward to visiting the new museum.

It is still uncertain whether the design, by the relatively young husband-and-wife firm Moreau Kusunoki Architectes, founded four years ago in Paris, will be accepted by its surrounding city, which has been bitterly divided over the project, largely because of concerns over its price of about $147 million.

The design features a series of connected pavilions and plazas organized around an interior street. The tower is connected to the nearby Observatory Park by a pedestrian footbridge and served by a harbor promenade.

The architects said they had tried to integrate the design of the building into the existing landscape of forest and sea and to use indigenous materials.

“Our approach was to try to make a building that is closely linked with the city, with the way people use it,” said Nicolas Moreau, who founded the firm with Hiroko Kusunoki, his wife.

Public support for the project has been modest, and some claimed that the winning design would draw criticism because of the height of the main tower and its dark coloring.

“The slogan for our city is ‘Daughter of the Baltic’ or ‘The White City of the North,’ ” said Eric Adlercreutz, a Helsinki architect who did not participate in the competition. “This winning entry has black wood as its major material. What they build in the South Harbor should not disturb our main landmarks of the Lutheran church and the Russian church.”

Local Opposition

Newspaper polls in 2011 showed that most residents opposed the project, and local artists objected to the idea that the new Guggenheim would absorb the existing Helsinki City Art Museum. For the most part, though, economics have played a greater role than aesthetics in the discussion.

The mayor of Helsinki and pro-business advocates have supported the new museum as an engine of economic development. A Helsinki-funded report by the Boston Consulting Group estimated that the museum could generate $56 million a year and create nearly 500 jobs in and around the institution — as well as 800 construction jobs.

But opponents have questioned whether the museum’s construction cost — initially projected at $177 million and later reduced — is too great to be borne by the state and federal governments, as envisioned. (The Bilbao construction cost $98 million.)

“My basic feeling is that it will be well received,” said Richard Armstrong, the Guggenheim’s director, who said Helsinki could enjoy economic benefits like increased investment and tourism, as Bilbao did.

“The so-called cost amortizes out very quickly in terms of net tax increase, not to mention the intangibles, which are frequently change of perception of the venue and willingness on the part of other investors to look at a site,” Mr. Armstrong said. “We’re not saying the Bilbao effect will be totally replicated; we’re saying that’s our history — the payback is really quite rapid.”

The project has been controversial since it was announced in 2011. Critics initially questioned the terms of the development deal, under which the Guggenheim would make most of the decisions but Helsinki would shoulder the costs.

Competing Architects

The other five finalists were AGPS Architecture, Asif Khan, Fake Industries Architectural Agonism, Haas Cook Zemmrich Studio2050, and SMAR Architects.

As the winner, Moreau Kusunoki will receive a cash award of about $113,000. Submission materials from all entrants are available on the competition’s website, which has over four million page views.

Ms. Kusunoki, who earned her degree from the Shibaura Institute of Technology in Tokyo, began her career in the studio of Shigeru Ban. Mr. Moreau, who trained at the École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Paris-Belleville, worked in the studios of Sanaa and Kengo Kuma.

In 2008, Mr. Moreau and Ms. Kusunoki left Tokyo together so Mr. Moreau could open an office for Mr. Kuma in France. Their firm’s other projects include the Beauvais Theater in northern France; the House of Cultures and Memories in Cayenne, French Guiana; the Polytechnic School of Engineering in Bourget-du-Lac in southeastern France; and the plaza for the Paris District Court (designed by Renzo Piano) in the Porte de Clichy section of Paris.