“Has ‘The Lighthouse’ Found Support?” boldly queried the Helsinki daily newspaper’s leading headline the morning after the June 23 announcement of the winning entry of the Guggenheim Museum’s year-long, two-phase, open international design competition to produce “a museum for the 21st century” as an extension of its branded franchise operations in the Finnish capital. The competition and its long-awaited result have been aimed at persuasively reinvigorating the Guggenheim’s dogged five-year saga in “the White City of the North,” following the Helsinki City Council’s 2011 rejection of the proposed museum branch and its financing.
The headline’s question neatly condensed several aspects of the immediate state of affairs following the identification of the young Paris-based firm Moreau Kusunoki Architectes as the competition winners with an entry titled “Art in the City,” to be located on the shoreline promenade of the city’s main South Harbor. First, that the winning design’s composition of nine predominantly horizontal, low-profile pavilions, clad in black charred-wood boarding had been reduced in the popular mind to a caricature of its most prominent feature, the vertical “lighthouse (maljakka)” volume anchoring the southern end of the site, which broke the height stipulations set forth by the competition rules. There is precedent in Finnish competitions, at least, for such bending of boundaries, but the design’s evocation of a “lighthouse” on the harbor front appeared a simplistic reduction of the maritime context.