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Counter-Competition Seeks Alternatives to Controversial Guggenheim Helsinki

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Guggenheim Helsinki site context map (image via Guggenheim Helsinki proposal)

As the official Guggenheim Helsinki design competition drew to a close this week, a rival contest was announced: Next Helsinki, backed by the New York architecture and urban policy think tank Terreform, Finnish nonprofit arts organization Checkpoint Helsinki, and the Gulf Labor offshoot Gulf Ultra Luxury Faction (GULF) along with Occupy Museums.

The counter-competition is seeking submissions in any media across a wide range of disciplines and approaches. For jury chair Michael Sorkin of Terreform, this ethos encompasses “any representational conceit that [entrants] think is transparent to their intentions … inventive reflections on the future of Helsinki on any scale.”

New York University sociologist Andrew Ross, an organizer with GULF, explained to Hyperallergic that the Next Helsinki contest is intentionally structured to reject the “traditional” confines of an architectural competition.

“We tried to get a spectrum of voices — pure architects, scholarly urbanists, arts practitioners, people who do urban consulting — not a typical jury,” Ross said.

The competition represents a joining of forces between urban policy thinkers suspicious of neoliberal cultural development models, groups opposed to the Guggenheim’s Abu Dhabi outpost, and a long-standing local opposition in Helsinki seeking an institution more in line with the domestic art scene.

According to a New York Times article about the Finnish opposition to the Guggenheim proposal earlier this summer, a majority of Helsinki residents objected to the plans in 2012 newspaper polls. But the need for counter-gestures remains exigent, according to Ross. “Advocates of Guggenheim are ascendant in Finnish politics, which is becoming more neoliberal,” he said.

The idea of a subversive competition is partially borrowed from GULF, which in March published a spoof website, globalguggenheim.org, mimicking the format of the official Guggenheim website and seeking plans for a “Sustainable Design Competition” to replace the institution’s soon-to-be-constructed Frank Gehry-designed Abu Dhabi franchise.

Submissions are due in March 2015, and the group intends to raise funds for a prize. Also planned are workshops or public fora after the competition closes, to be held both in New York and Helsinki.

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