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A woman speaking in front of an audience, pointing at a map.
Kaarina Gould, Project Director of the New Architecture and Design Museum, gave an update on the progress at Sonck Hall in Helsinki. photo: Anna Rusi

New Museum of Architecture and Design to be created through open collaboration

The new architecture and design museum project is progressing smoothly. In June, Project Director Kaarina Gould gave an update on the current status of the initiative. The “World’s Best Museum” is being conceptualised in a polyphonic and user-diverse way.

The New Museum of Architecture and Design aims to do much more than bring together two museums and form a new museum building: the project is to create a completely new, insightful and global museum experience and become a visionary institution for the future.

About a year ago, an organisation was set up to run the project, led by Kaarina Gould, who joined the museum project from her position as Director of the Finnish Cultural Institute in New York. The project organisation is preparing a project plan that will serve as the basis for a final implementation decision, expected in late 2023. 

In April this year, the project took a major step forward when the State and the City of Helsinki set up the Foundation for the Finnish Museum of Architecture and Design. The Foundation’s mission is to establish a new museum in Helsinki’s South Harbour, merging the existing Museum of Finnish Architecture and Design Museum together. 

The aim of the new museum is not only to bring together the collections of the two museums, but also to build a more comprehensive whole – to be even more than the sum of its parts. The goal is to build a museum on a global scale and bring a new, highly functional and participatory experience to the field.

International, yet local

Project director Kaarina Gould believes that there is still room and need for new kinds of places of encounter in the city. The museum would not only serve as a platform for learning and for the development of the two fields, but it would also be part of people’s everyday lives. The Museum of Architecture and Design’s expert role would thus be accompanied by a strong sense of locality: the museum aims to be a good neighbour.

The Museum of Finnish Architecture and Design Museum are in urgent need of new facilities. The extensive collections of both museums require larger, dedicated spaces in order to be displayed in a worthy environment. The current facilities allow only a select few to be exhibited. 

At the heart of the visit is the act of doing, experiencing and recovering.

The New Museum of Architecture and Design aims to redefine the museum experience itself. Under one roof, the traditional museum spaces – exhibition halls, shop and restaurant – will be combined with a surprising and insightful urban lounge that will attract a wider and more diverse audience. At the heart of the visit is the act of doing, experiencing and recovering. In addition to providing a place to learn and stay, the museum aims to offer a space to breathe and recharge. 

The project is also aiming high globally, with a strong involvement of international professionals who believe in the ambitions of the new museum. The project will promote Finnish architecture and design in the world by providing a space and framework for meaningful encounters, inspiring education and international dialogue. 

Insights on world’s best

A discussion event in mid-June featured a participatory panel discussion on how to make the best museum in the world. The discussion, chaired by Gould, included Project Manager of Finnish Design Info Katja Lindroos, Vice President of SAFA Inari Virkkala, Intendant of the Helsinki City Orchestra Aleksi Malmberg, and curator and author Nimco Kulmiye Hussein

The concept of the best museum in the world combined ideas such as collaboration, the use of different perspectives and uniqueness. The panellists were inspired by the broad scope of the process: the potential of the museum as an innovator, both nationally and internationally, and as an advocate for understanding. As Lindroos pointed out, instead of the best museum in the world, one could talk about the best process in the world, a development in which everyone has the opportunity to participate. 

The museum project aims to break down old perceptions and bring these creative fields closer to everyday life.

The discussion also touched on the challenges of the museum project. Architecture and design, especially in a museum context, may be seen by the general public as an elitist, niche field. The museum project therefore aims to break down old perceptions and bring these creative fields closer to everyday life. According to Malmberg, the problem is rooted in a feeling of exclusion and the solution could be found in shared experiences. Hussein and Lindroos both stressed the importance of networks: open discussion involving different groups prevents isolation.

In addition to the museum activities, the panellists also discussed the nature of the future exhibition content. The new architecture and design museum is intended to increase understanding of the fields and make participation easier. Rather than presenting what is known, the panellists hoped that exhibitions would showcase what is seen as important. For example, Virkkala emphasised the role of the museum as a platform for discussion. The role of expertise should be to frame the debate and add depth to the dialogue, but the opportunity to participate belongs to everyone. 

Both Gould and the panellists believe in the potential of the project to create a new concept of museum. In its creative phase, the project is ambitiously moving towards its goals, based on localism and the city’s inhabitants, but also taking into account the museum’s high profile on the international stage.

Text: Anna Rusi