The Shortlist for the Guggenheim Helsinki Design Competition

An Express-Interview with Troy Conrad Therrien, Curator of Architecture and Digital Initiatives, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum


Guggenheim Helsinki Now
Taidehalli, Helsinki
Through May 16, 2015

When it was announced in 2008 that the Guggenheim Hermitage Museum in Las Vegas was to be closed, Arturas Zuokas, the mayor of Vilnius, Lithuania, organized an international competition for designing a new Guggenheim Hermitage Museum in Vilnius. Various big names in architecture, such as Daniel Libeskind and Massimiliano Fuksas, submitted project proposals, and it was also a well-known architect who won – Zaha Hadid. Although the museum was projected to open in 2012, a slew of local artists and academics were strongly opposed to the building of the museum; financial problems also played a part in putting an end to the project. Meanwhile, Thomas Krens, the director of the Solomon Guggenheim Foundation at the time, announced in 2011 that the city of Helsinki was financially ready to begin preliminary preparations for the building of a new Guggenheim museum.


The potential project for a Guggenheim museum in Helsinki drew even more local controversy than in the case of Vilnius; the opposition was, and still is, large in number. Especially vociferous are the representatives of the local art scene – they believe that the introduction of a global museum brand will bring only harm, and that by putting the Guggenheim's thoroughly authoritative art collection on display, the local art scene will be completely ignored. Epithets such as “Starbucks museology” and “McDonald's-like franchise” have even been bandied about. Just as contentious was the museum's architectural form and location in the urban environs – a strategically convenient spot in the southern part of the city's harbor (Eteläsatama), where the proposed building's massive bulk would be the first thing to the catch the eye of visitors arriving to the city by boat.

All conflicting viewpoints aside, the architectural design competition for the museum has ended its submission period, and from the 1,715 projects that were sent in, six have been chosen for the shortlist; these six will be on display through May 16 at the Helsinki art space Taidehalli / Kunsthalle Helsinki.


Troy Conrad Therrien, Curator of Architecture and Digital Initiatives at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, was gracious enough to answer a few questions on the competition and the exhibition, as posed by .

Could you please give us a bit more background about the Guggenheim Helsinki Design Competition – such as how the panel of judges was chosen, and how did they select the designs that made the shortlist?

The international jury, which includes architects, urban planners, curators, sustainability experts and politicians, was selected by the Guggenheim Foundation, the State of Finland, the City of Helsinki, and the Association of Finnish Architects (SAFA). To select the six finalists, the jury reviewed all 1,715 Stage One entries and considered how the concept designs could create a vital, meaningful presence for a Guggenheim Helsinki in the city, and how the designs could be further developed. The essential criteria considered in Stage One were: cityscape, architecture, and usability as outlined in the competition brief.


Could you tell us what unites, and what divides, the six shortlisted design entries?

The shortlist represents a wide spectrum of design philosophies and building types – from towers to pavilions, adaptive-reuse to performance-based and singular object designs. Each uniquely challenges architecture as a discipline and its immediate accessibility to a general public.

What unites them is that none are the product of an existing signature, and none are derivative of current tricks, shortcuts or recipes that pervade much of architectural design. They are united in their uniqueness, each representative of a new direction rather than being samples from familiar ideas or tropes.


Visitors to the exhibition will be invited to explore interactive installations that present analyses and interpretations of the data compiled from all 1,715 competition submissions. Who is the author of this exhibition layout, and how did he/she work out the concept?

The curator of the exhibition, Troy Conrad Therrien, brought together a diverse group of collaborators from Finland, the United States and Germany, each with hybrid expertise ranging across architecture, technology, design and theory. The starting point was to consider the full content of the 1,715 entries. Rather than an archive, this information has been reformatted as a dataset, hosted online and made available for further public use and inquiry. The collaborators produced an experimental analysis of contemporary museum architecture, then extended this analysis into an interactive game that pairs people with one of the six finalist designs based on a series of personality-driven questions. The purpose of the game is to make people think twice, to have them reconsider their initial reactions before they give direct feedback to the Guggenheim on their favored proposal.


Could you highlight some of the additional programs attached to this exhibition?

Past programs around the exhibition began on Saturday, April 25 with “BIG Gang,” an event featuring competition jury member Jeanne Gang, founder and principal of Studio Gang Architects, and Bjarke Ingels, founding partner of BIG Bjarke Ingels Group, who each presented a keynote lecture on their work at Ateneum Hall. The following day, the Museum of Finnish Architecture and the Guggenheim co-hosted a roundtable featuring Gang, Ingels, Pentti Kareoja (partner of Ark-House), Riina Palva (co-founder of Verstas Architects), and Marco Steinberg (founder of Snowcone), moderated by Juulia Kauste (director of the Museum of Finnish Architecture) and Troy Conrad Therrien, on the impact of architectural competitions and the role of architects in society.


Upcoming programs include a special family weekend beginning on Saturday, May 9, which will include three tech workshops designed for children and a panel discussion on play and technology led by Linda Liukas, founder of Hello Ruby. The schedule of public programs will conclude on Friday, May 15, with a conversation between artist Carsten Höller and Daniel Birnbaum, director of the Moderna Museet in Stockholm. The full list of public programs can be found at