Martin Fenlon Architecture

Martin Fenlon Architecture

Los Angeles, CA


Guggenheim Helsinki

"The Loop" is a dramatic yet efficient response to the conditions created by the Guggenheim and its placement on the Helsinki waterfront. Situated on a beautiful site where the sea meets the city, the project bridges both nature and culture, seamlessly articulated into a singular presence.

The project’s figure-eight shape, historically associated with renewal and continuity, was used as a basis for the design. Used as both an open and autonomous form, it will allow the institution to assert itself as an icon and a beacon, embracing the city within which it is thoroughly integrated.

The project is articulated with a northern loop, anchored by a public atrium, and a southern loop, which encompasses an exterior public sculpture garden. The northern loop forms a space similar in size and proportion to the adjacent urban light wells, creating a ceiling from the Nordic light. This loop also rises in height, joining the Palace Hotel and adjacent buildings as part of the cityscape, while orienting itself towards the Helsinki Cathedral, framing a view from within the atrium. The crossing of the two loops is oriented towards the Uspenski Cathedral, giving the outdoor café and performance areas a framed view of Aalto’s building in front of the Cathedral.

The southern loop is lower in height, preserving views from the Tahititornin Vuori Park. A similar park space, open to the public, is contained within this loop. The inside dimension of the loop is the same as the outside dimension of the famous Guggenheim New York drum. The ascending ramp of the within also shares the same slope as its New York predecessor. The interior promenade that is formed within links all of the exhibition spaces and creates an experience independent of viewing art. What results is an open form that encompasses the exterior adjacent space, standing in marked contrast to the autonomous forms of the preceding Guggenheim museums. Most of the interior will be clad in timber, a source of local pride. This timber will be proudly displayed to the exterior through the curtain walls. A metallic-clad skin, that nests the wood and glass within, will shimmer in the sun like that of its predecessor Guggenheim Bilbao. Capped with a continuous band of skylights, a strip of sky will follow along the top of the form, creating a glowing arabesque at night.


With a synthesis of diverse elements, the Loop articulates a number of institutional and civic influences, yielding a remarkably unique experience. Building on its predecessors in New York and Bilbao, it is presented as an institution that is at once an accumulation of its own history, and an unprecedented response to a specific time and place in the twenty first century.

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Status: Competition Entry
Location: Helsinki, Finland
Firm Role: Architect