Helsinki Says “No” to the Guggenheim

Guggenheim Bilbao
Guggenheim Bilbao, the surprisly successful outpost that inspired the Helsinki project (image via

Members of Helsinki’s City Board have rejected a long-standing proposal to build a branch of the Guggenheim Museum on the city’s waterfront. Eight of the board’s fifteen members voted today against advancing the proposal to its second phrase, which would have entailed consideration by the City Council and an international architectural contest.

Reuters broke the news, which it discovered via the city’s website:

“The City Board rejects the project” it said on the Helsinki city website under the heading Decision bulletin no. 17.

The plan to build a Guggenheim outpost in Helsinki was first reported in January of last year. The city paid $2.5 million to commission a feasibility study for the project, which was inspired by the Guggenheim Bilbao and the large economic boost that museum brought to the surrounding area. The study estimated the cost of the Helsinki museum at 140 million euro ($185 million), including the construction and design of the building. The proposed opening date was sometime in 2018.

But there were problems with the plan from the start, not least the question of whether a new branch of the world’s biggest megamuseum would force local museums and galleries to shut their doors.

According to Reuters, the project was rejected at least in part because of concerns about the cost and the burden on Finnish taxpayers. And an article from last week in the international edition of the Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat details the shifting politics around the proposal: apparently the Green League, the second-largest group in the City Council, recently changed its view, moving from a stance that the City Board should advance the project to opposing it flat-out. The Greens’ switch was key because they joined two other groups in the Council, the Social Democrats and the Left Alliance, that were already opposed.

“If the artists and most of the people, and we and the Social Democrats oppose the project, then I do not understand why the City Council should debate it any more,” politician Ville Ylikahri, chairman of the Green group in the City Council, told the paper. He added that a majority of his party feels the proposed museum is “an imbalanced deal from Helsinki’s point of view.”

In response to the news, the Guggenheim released a statement from Director Richard Armstrong, quoted here in full:

When the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation was invited to conduct the concept and development study, we accepted the commission in the belief that Helsinki offers many exciting possibilities. Over the course of a year, our team confirmed this initial premise, concluding that a Guggenheim museum would contribute significantly to Helsinki’s cultural landscape. We would have liked to develop the idea for the museum one step further, through an international open architectural competition — but as we emphasized from the start, our study had no predetermined outcome. All the same, we remain committed to the possibility of being in Helsinki.

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