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IN SPITE of the enormous success of the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, the €130m ($145m) design chosen for the Helsinki outpost will not quieten misgivings about the foundation’s aspiration to create a global cultural network.
The competition was won by an indistinct jumble of pavilions faced in charred wood that reflects all too well the ambiguities of the Guggenheim’s intentions. The design, announced on June 23rd, is as quietly deferential as Frank Gehry’s Bilbao design is self-consciously flamboyant. Along a quay now devoted to parking and a port warehouse, the Paris-based Moreau Kusunoki Architectes have proposed nine loosely arranged pavilions, six of which house gallery suites. Glassed-in passages and gathering spaces among the pavilions glue them into an ensemble.
The pavilion roofs turn up in identical gentle curves, with the taller ones huddling at the base of a tower topped by a restaurant—a lighthouse for dining. The visitor experience is rather shapeless, too. Most people will make their way from the city centre along a cheerless esplanade to a broad entrance plaza. They wander around a glassed-in garden and down the passageways to find the gallery entrances, and cross through the passages as they move between pavilions, which enforces a rhythm of viewing and pausing.
These in-between spaces seem the least realised of the design. Are they display spaces or hallways? Visitors tend to treat hallways as places where art that does not matter is hung. […]