It doesn’t have to be “Guggenheim or nothing”

So, Guggenheim Helsinki was in the news again today. Hooray.

In case you haven’t heard about this yet, here is a very quick history of the project so far:

  • In 2011, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation proposed that a museum would be built in Helsinki
  • Helsinki’s South Harbour was their first choice – at least after an unrelated embezzlement scandal in Vilnius derailed the planned museum there
  • Over the last five years, various proposals have gone back and forth between the city, the Finnish state, and the Foundation, concerning the funding, ownership, and operation of said museum
  • There was an architectural competition! Wasn’t that fun?

Visualisointi GH-04380895 -rakennuksesta, jonka päällä teksti Guggenheim.
Image credit: YLE

There’s a lot more detail there (including a great moment where the Director of the Foundation walked out of a YLE interview after a perfectly reasonable question), but if you’re interested, you can find it by using the Google machine, and I think this is a decent summary.

What do I think about the project? Ehh. I’m not a big fan of using public money to build private buildings, whether its stadiums like Hartwall Arena (a topic for another day) or contemporary art museums like the Guggenheim. But until we see the (still-secret) final proposal, I’ll reserve final judgment on its merits.

I do wonder, though: is it the best use of that space, for Helsinki and its citizens?

I have the pleasure of spending most days sitting next to the space where the museum would be built, if everything goes according to plan, and it’s definitely not being used very well. Here’s a photo from earlier this afternoon:


Welcoming, eh?

Here, in the most beautiful and central quarter of Helsinki, you have all this space being taken up by a mostly-empty parking lot and a seasonal (and underutilized) ferry terminal. This isn’t so unusual for Helsinki, as was covered back in 2014 by one of my favourite Finnish blogs, but things are improving, especially with the construction of Löyly, Allas, and the surprisingly-controversial Sky Wheel. So why not think about some other options, rather than the current “Guggenheim or Parking Lot” choice that we’re faced with now?

A boardwalk

Back in my beautiful hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia, our waterfront looks like this:

Image result for halifax boardwalk
Image credit: Toronto Star

You can walk from the cruise terminals at Pier 21 (in the far south) to the Casino all along the water, which takes about 20-25 minutes at a nice, slow pace. The whole way, there are little shops, restaurants, artists, and musicians to entertain you. This is the first experience many visitors have of our fair city, and I think it’s a pretty good one. It makes Halifax look a lot nicer than it is, which is exactly what it should do!

So what about something like this, Helsinki? Build a nice boardwalk, plant some trees, and stretch the Market Square out along the water. Give the visitors from Stockholm something to look at as they trudge, hungover, to the city centre, and perhaps even make some money while you’re at it!

A city beach

Like Paris Plage! I mean, I probably wouldn’t spend a lot of time tanning there personally, but I have to admit that it’s pretty cool:

Image result for paris plage

Not bad, Paris. Not bad.

A really kickass beer garden where you can get German beer and spend the whole day with your friends eating entire chickens

One of my absolute favourite things to do in the world is spend a sunny weekend day-drinking with friends. One of my best friends lives in Nuremberg, Germany, and when I visited him last time, we spent most of the time just sitting outside, drinking beer, and talking about anything and everything. I think Helsinki could use more of this:

Image result for beer garden

Really, doesn’t that look great? You’d have to make allowances for the weather, but I think it could be fantastic.

The end:

I don’t know what the right answer is, and I’d really like to hear other suggestions. To be honest, after the boardwalk idea, I kind of ran out of steam (though I’d love to have a beer garden.)

None of this is to say that the Guggenheim is the wrong thing for Helsinki. But it might not be the best thing, and I think that’s something worth considering.

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