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Architects in Finland Battle Over the Helsinki Guggenheim and the “Next Helsinki”

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. Photo by Miguel A. Blanco on Flickr.

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. Photo by Miguel A. Blanco on Flickr.

In early December 2014, the shortlist for a competition of the desing of the new Guggenheim museum in Helsinki was announced. The bulk of the building of the new Finnish venue of the famed museum of modern and contemporary art will be financed by the government of Finland and the project is already causing controversy and disagreements in public opinion.

The main sponsor of this promising project will be Finnish taxpayers, with the government willing to spend as much as 130 million Euro on the museum, which will carry the world-renowned Guggenheim name. In fact, the Finnish government will spend 30 million euros of this budget specifically on paying for the use of the Guggenheim brand. These expenses are already the cause of open outrage among local residents. For many locals, it seems particularly unfair to invest taxpayers’ money in a non-Finnish museum and brand. Many see it as sponsoring “someone else's trademark”.

Local and national media have been critical of the entire contest for the design of the museum and have called the entire project “a vanity project”.

The number of participants in the contest for the design of the new Helsinki Guggenheim was incredibly high, with more then 1700 proposals received from professional architects from more then 77 countries.

Authorities in the city have taken this and other elements as good signs and have explained that they expect the new museum to become the main tourist attraction in Helsinki, boosting tourism and the city's economy in general. Some representatives of the municipality have referenced the so-called “Bilbao effect”, describing the effect that the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, Spain had on bringing in almost 4 million tourists to Bilbao in the first 3 years and boosting the local economy. Locals in Helsinki, however, fail to see the parallel between the two cities, as the Bilbao Guggenheim was part of a larger economic and cultural revitalization in the Spanish city.

In Finland, in response to the government's decision to collaborate with Guggenheim, an alternative competition was created for another project dubbed “The Next Helsinki”, where Finnish architects will be offering their own urban design solution for the city. On the project's official website the organizers of this effort call participants to:

“Help us seize this opportunity to highlight the city's singularity, and its residents’ appetite for social, environmental and cultural justice.”

Submissions for the “New Helsinki” contest will be open until March 2, 2015.

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