What's up with the New Museum of Architecture and Design?
Photos: Anni Koponen
On June 14, the newly established Foundation for the New Museum of Architecture and Design hosted an open event in Helsinki to exchange ideas and learn about the current status of the initiative. The beautiful early summer’s day drew a diverse group of enthusiasts to the light-filled Sonck Hall, along with dozens of online participants. The crowd included experts of architecture, urban planning, design, and museum field, as well as other interested stakeholders, professionals, and citizens.

“How is the New Museum of Architecture and Design doing? – It’s doing well! A new foundation has been established, and many stakeholders are committed to making this into reality”, project director and CEO of the Foundation for the Finnish Museum of Architecture and Design, Kaarina Gould phrased.

“The Foundation for the Finnish Museum of Architecture and Design that was established in May began operations at the start of June. The new cooperation agreement between the city and state also outlines the plans for founding and funding a new real estate company which, in collaboration with the foundation, will develop the building for the new museum. This is a significant new commitment between the city and the state”, Gould shared.

The aim is to build the world’s leading museum of architecture and design in Helsinki. The public debate on the topic has mainly focused on the new museum building. The question, Gould pointed out, that is equally important, is what kind of an institution is in the makings.

Two existing museums, the Museum of Finnish Architecture and the Design Museum, will eventually merge into the new museum. Both museums currently operate on premises that were not originally intended for museums, and which do not fulfil today’s requirements for a museum experience. A new museum building is needed that can meet the expectations, and offer up-to-date experiences and services for its users.

“An important point to consider is how the new museum will serve as a platform for further development in the fields of architecture and design. From the viewpoint of sustainability, the core question is how to build up an organisation that is truly inclusive. This cannot be a feature sought outside, it must come from within. When considering who it is that receives an education in these fields, we encounter major structural questions”, Gould concluded her opening words.
An invitation “to just drop in – and experience”
Four professionals from various fields took part in the panel discussion at the event: curator and writer Nimco Kulmiye Hussein; entrepreneur, journalist, and project manager at Finnish Design Info, Katja Lindroos; Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra’s general manager Aleksi Malmberg, who has served as chair of the City of Helsinki’s Arts and Culture Vision Committee; and the vice president of the Finnish Association of Architects (SAFA) Inari Virkkala.

The panellists contemplated the opportunities and desired focus points of the new museum from several angles. The discussion ranged from name proposals for the new museum to the networks that should be built around it. The panellists were presented with questions and comments both live and online.

The panellists, as well as the other participants, hoped to see the museum as a pacemaker for the fields of design and architecture in terms of content and quality, with an openness to as many audiences as possible. The world’s best museum should be developed through the best possible process.

“When entering the field of design, a global approach becomes mandatory almost immediately. The Finnish market is small. We can’t begin from an idea of our own excellence. Instead, we need to be able to present what we feel is important. There is an exciting difference at play, because when we highlight questions we see as crucial, we are inviting others to join. At the moment, we don’t yet possess the tools for the kind of international communication that would both be interactive in the truest sense, as well as inviting and welcoming”, Katja Lindroos formulated on the museum’s opportunity to enable impact on the design fields in Finland.

“I like to think that a museum should consider five important points from the visitor’s perspective – that you can be impressed, enjoy, learn, participate, and share”, Aleksi Malmberg summed up.

The panellists felt that openness and interactivity were especially relevant aspects to take into account within each step of the initiative. Architecture and design are topics that influence everyone, and this notion needs to become visible in the new museum. Solutions should still be processed through national and international networks.

“Social media discussions surrounding architecture and urban planning are often deconstructive. Could the museum bring in a certain depth through expertise? Could the museum be a mindful arena for discussions on architecture and urban planning?” Inari Virkkala asked.

“Let’s consider the museum’s spaces and events in a way that they are open and considerate. You don’t need to know anything when you come to the museum. You can just come by, wonder and look around, that would be a good starting point. To just drop in – and experience”, Nimco Kulmiye Hussein suggested.

As the event proceeded, other participants also took the opportunity to share their thoughts. Various viewpoints were raised: aims of carbon neutrality, novel pedagogical approaches, the museum as an accelerator for architecture and design… And the importance of craft and making things by hand to be included in the concept. At the end, there were reminders of the long traditions of current museums, and teachings that they can offer. And surely Alvar Aalto was mentioned.
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