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Helsinki, Finland, 1992-May 31, 1998

PROGRAM: art museum including galleries, theater, cafe, shop, artist workshop
CLIENT: Finnish Ministry of Public Building
SIZE: 130,000 sf
STATUS: completed

The Helsinki Museum of Contemporary Art provides a variety of spatial experiences. We considered the range of contemporary artwork, and tried to anticipate the needs of a variety of artists including those whose works depend on a quiet atmosphere to bring out their full intensity. An exhibition space that works for an expressive and unpredictable artist such as Vito Acconci, must also work for artist such as Agnes Martin and Richard Tuttle. The general character of the rooms, which are almost rectangular with one wall curved, allows for a silent yet dramatic backdrop for the exhibition of contemporary art. These rooms are meant to be silent, but not static; they are differentiated through their irregularity.

The concept of Kiasma involves the building's mass intertwining with the geometry of the city and landscape which are reflected in the shape of the building. An implicit cultural line curves to link the building to Finlandia Hall while it also engages a "natural line" connecting to the back landscape and Töölö Bay. In the landscape plan, extending the bay up to the building will provide an area for future civic development along this tapering body of water, which also serves as a reflecting pool for Finlandia Hall and new development along the south edge of the water. The horizontal light of northern latitudes is enhanced by a waterscape that would serve as an urban mirror, thereby linking the museum to Helsinki's Töölö heart, which on a clear day, in Aalto's word's, "extends to Lapland." The changes in elevation proposed with the water extension and it shallow depth would allow for parking decks and/or highway linkages which are presently part of various planning considerations.
'The Kiasma contemporary art museum in Helsinki is a study in curves, sharp angles and geometric shapes.'
-Andrew Bender, Los Angeles Times
'His breakthrough project, Helsinki's Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, is a sublime series of galleries inspired by the chiasma - an anatomical crossing, like where the optic nerves converge at the base of the brain'.
-Aric Chen, Whitewall, March, 2007
'The Helsinki Museum of Contemporary Art, whose dominant figura of intertwined architecture and landscape, nature and culture, incarnated in the twin geometries that bodied forth the museum complex's original volume, seems almost didactic in intent'.
-Abitare 427, April, 2003
'Praised by the selection committee as "mysteriously sculpturesque," Kiasma is a simple weaving of two shapes. One is a long rectangular volume that serves as an extended entrance; the other, containing the galleries, is an enveloping torus of a vault. The flowing gallery rooms are different sizes, with curved walls and seamless, scratch-coat plaster surfaces animated by shifting light patterns. Explains museum Director Tuula Arkio: "Art requires a neutral space. This does not mean Kiasma is devoid of spirit. Instead, the space operates on a perceptual and sensory level, giving us an extraordinary vehicle for art."'
-Roberta Lord, Architecture, June, 1998
'In the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Steven Holl creates a dramatic embrace of Helsinki's treasured architectural legacy.'
-Karen Stein, Architectural Record
'Seeking to redefine the art museum as a demotic meeting place rather than elitist treasure house, Steven Holl's long awaited Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki fuses rich interior mystery with a bold urban context. The new museum is as much mythical narrative as national monument. Kiasma does not dazzle, rather it is an essay in subtleties. The reticent way in which Kiasma unfolds to reveal itself, joining interior mystery with exterior horizon, is a perceptive reading of both Finland and its people'.
-Annette Lecuyer, Architectural Review, August, 1998
'The winning entry [for the Nordic/Baltic Competition for the design of the New Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki], submitted by Holl Architects, under the code name "Chiasma" was described by the jury as "mysteriously sculpturesque in its design and sensitively innovative in its articulation of form." The interiors were praised for their clean lines and distinctive character. The lighting and layout demonstrate Holl's ability to combine effective design for display spaces with impressive urban planning for the building in the center of the city of Helsinki.'
-A + U, October, 1993
'The most fascinating piece of new architecture to be seen in these latitudes in a long time. ... The ingenious connections to the museum's surroundings are made primarily in the exterior form; the interior, by contrast, endeavors to create a neutral environment to make art the focus of attention. The chief tool for creating variation in the interior space is light'.
-Daniel Birnbaum, Artforum, January, 1998
"Steven Holl's museum of contemporary art in Helsinki takes its name from a neurological configuration that links perception and conception. That's a good point of departure for an art museum, and Holl has turned his into a major urban event. He has carved a set of powerfully sensuous galleries within a curving shell that animates what was formerly a dead zone in the Finnish capital's core."
-Herbert Muschamp, New York Times (Art and Architecture Year in Review)
'Indeed, Holl's work straddles the intuitive and the rational, responding to the physical conditions of a site while integrating a more qualitative, even metaphorical, approach. For example, his widely-acclaimed Helsinki contemporary art museum, Kiasma, consists of two conjoined linear blocks - one curving, the other rectilinear - in zinc, aluminum and glass. They were designed not only to visually connect three nearby landmarks ... but to evoke the notion of intertwining and exchange, from which Holl's concept inspired the museum to take its name: in genetics, a chiasma refers to the X-shaped union of chromosomes'.
-Aric Chen, Spoon, December, 2005

National AIA Design Award, USA, 1998

– Steven Holl Architects
Steven Holl (design architect)
Vesa Honkonen (project architect)
Tim Bade, Molly Blieden, Stephen Cassell, Pablo Castro-Estevez, Janet Cross, Justin Korhammer, Anderson Lee, Chris McVoy, Anna Müller, Justin Rüssli, Bradford Kelley, Tomoaki Tanaka, Tapani Talo (project team)

local architect
– Juhani Pallasmaa Architects
Juhani Pallasmaa (principal architect)
Timo Kiukkola (project architect)
Seppo Mäntylä, Heikki Määttänen, Timo Ruusuvuori, Seppo Sivula, Merita Soini (project team)

HVAC engineer
– Insinööritoimisto Olof Granlund OY

electrical engineer
– Tauno Nissinen OY Consulting Engineering

mechanical engineer
– Ove Arup

structural engineer
– Insinööritoimisto OY Matti Ollila & Co.
– Ove Arup

lighting consultant
– L'Observatoire International

fire technical consultant
– Markku Kauriala Ltd

glass consultant
– Engineering Office Aulis Bertin, Ltd

theater technical consultant
– Teatek

acoustical consultant
– Arkkitehtitoimisto Alpo Halme

general contractor
– Seicon OY
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