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Europe 40 Under 40 Awards ARCHIVE 2016 40under40
Guggenheim Museum of Helsinki - Moreau Kusunoki - France
  • Guggenheim Museum of Helsinki - Moreau Kusunoki - France
Guggenheim Museum of Helsinki - Moreau Kusunoki - France


Established in Paris in 2011, Moreau Kusunoki Architectes inscribed itself discreetly into the roster of young architects in France. Out of their modesty, the firm deliberately restrained itself from all forms of media attention, in the belief that architecture is best conceived in reserve and introspection, which are favourable to the emergence of poetic visions.

The firm would not have existed without Japan. Hiroko was born there and earned her degree from the Shibaura Institute of Technology in Tokyo. Nicolas Moreau, a former student of the École Nationale d’Architecture de Belleville in Paris, discovered the Japanese archipelago in 2003, almost by accident. It was in Tokyo where the two had their first professional experiences while working with internationally renowned architects: Shigeru Ban for Hiroko; SANAA and Kengo Kuma for Nicolas. They learned a number of lessons having passed through the studios of people they regarded as masters: the art of construction from Ban, programmatic and spatial investigation from SANAA, and the sensibility for materials from Kuma.

In 2008, they left Tokyo for France where Nicolas set up Kengo Kuma’s office in Europe, which was primarily occupied with the Frac project in Marseille and the City of Arts and Culture in Besançon. The French system of public commission, made through the organisation of competitions for young architects, gave them the opportunity to open their own office. The new Théâtre de Beauvaisis, in Beauvais, was the first project they were awarded. They subsequently won the competitions for the House of Cultures and Memories in Cayenne, the Polytech School of Engineering in Bourget-du-Lac, and a plaza for the new High Court of Paris designed by Renzo Piano, which is currently under construction.

Cultural duality of the architects is legible in all of the projects conceived by the practice. From Japan, the architects retained a passion for details. Their projects begin with the infinitesimal – a joint in a wall, a tile – and is carried forward to the scale of an object whose presence necessarily jostles the existing city, in accordance with an entirely Western logic of urbanism. The difference of their maternal tongues creates a sense of “in-between” for Nicolas Moreau and Hiroko Kusunoki, with the distance between them is abolished by the language of design. Rather than creating a building that springs from an abrupt idea, the two partners prefer the attestation of objects, having inherited a Japanese trait: drawings and models allow them to gradually approach the final form. Intuition and feeling, more than reason, provide the justness of the solution.

The concept of “in-between”, or known as ma in Japanese, is often found in the architecture of Moreau Kusunoki. Between two buildings, it lies the space of possibilities, where life must be developed. For the Guggenheim Helsinki, it is the interstices of circulation that brings together and separates the exhibition halls. The appropriation of ma by the users is the sign of success in a building.

Moreau Kusunoki sees the Guggenheim project as an opportunity to elevate their architectural ideas to a new level. For the firm, research into materials and the revival of traditional know-how is crucial: a chance to free architecture from the confinement imposed by regimentation and industry, an act that is both aesthetic and militant.

Project Description
The Guggenheim Helsinki must represent a new museum paradigm, just like every Guggenheim museum has been before. Our proposal is an iconic lighthouse, but also a sustainable architecture that is more than a landmark. It is a place which invites and draws together both the visitors and the community of Helsinki to meet with art and architecture. Tomorrow’s museum has to be thought of in terms of horizontality, openness, flexibility and public engagement, “solid, monolithic and vertical museums are probably buildings of the past”.1
The project stands as a prolongation of the pre-existing urban condition. The extension of the city grid to the museum’s proposal anchors it deeply in its context. The museum intensifies the urban experience. The carefully arranged fragmental volumes create passages to allow natural flow and flexible access in-between both large and intimately scaled spaces. Inner squares and protected streets create new perspectives in its surroundings, and generate a variety of promenades throughout the whole site.
The proposal pays homage to the great tradition of wood construction in Finland and explores its state of the art technology. Thus, local building techniques are part of the design process. That is why we naturally use Finnish materials when possible in order to limit the transport distances and stimulate local suppliers. The project’s design with its charred timber cladding echoes the process of regeneration that occurs when forests burn and then grow back stronger, also called « Shou Sugi Ban », technique of charring know for centuries in Japan but also in Laponia, improves the properties of soft wood. It results in a more stable and durable material with better fire properties and an explicit aesthetic. Wooden profiles are burnt and brushed twice with an oil that invigorates the structure and color of the material. A service life of over fifteen
years is then expected.
The building facades have been developed to offer a great protection from the continental climate of Helsinki while providing the best conditions for art conservation. Envelopes have a high performance, with low U-values and excellent air tightness to minimize excessive heat losses. It aim at ensuring good inside atmosphere in synergy with day lighting strategy and tying into the design for building services, whilst allowing for surprising and grand views to the harbor and the city.
Our museum is a shared ecosystem that enables a conversation between the visitors, the staff, the art and the urban fabric. It is not only a place for display : artistic productions permeate the building and its activities by their presence. The fragmented continuum, articulating heterogeneous activities in a variety of spaces reflects the inhomogeneity of modern and contemporary art. These activities do not take place in confined or hidden rooms but in transparent and open areas, allowing social and surprising discourse to happen in a cultural context. The museum should establish the conditions of fruitful narratives. It is a place that challenges minds and emotions, a place that creates memories.
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