Kiasma, Museum of Contemporary Art
Steven Holl Architects

November 11, 2012 /

Helsinki, Finland

Photo © Paul Warchol

Kiasma is located in the  heart of Helsinki at the foot of the Parliament building to the west, with Eliel Saarinen's Helsinki Station to the east, and Alvar Aalto's Finlandia Hall to the north.

The horizontal light of northern latitudes is enhanced by a waterscape that serves as an urban mirror, thereby linking the museum to Helsinki's Töölö heart, which on a clear day, in Aalto's word's, "extends to Lapland." This water extension from Töölö Bay intertwines with and passes through the museum.

Photo © Paul Warchol

Kiasma, front. Steven Holl Architects. Photo © Paul Warchol

The concept of Kiasma involved the building's mass intertwining with the geometry of the city and landscape which are reflected in the shape of the building.  An implicit cultural line curves to link the building to Finlandia Hall while it also engages a "natural line" connecting to the back landscape and Töölö Bay. 

Photo © Paul Warchol

Photo © Paul Warchol

Photo © Paul Warchol

Photo © Paul Warchol

Kiasma provides a variety of spatial experiences. The general character of the rooms, which are almost rectangular with one wall curved, allows for a silent yet dramatic backdrop for the exhibition of contemporary art.  These rooms are meant to be silent, but not static; they are differentiated through their irregularity.

Photo © Paul Warchol

Photo © Paul Warchol

Photo © Paul Warchol

The slight variation in room shape and size due to the gently curving section of the building allows natural light to enter in several different ways.  This asymmetrically drives movement through a series of spatial sequences.  In this regard the overall design becomes a slightly warped "gallery of rooms," where the spatial flow emerges from the combination of the horizontal light-catching section and the continuity of the internal space. 

Photo © Paul Warchol

Photo © Paul Warchol

Photo © Paul Warchol

The dynamic internal circulation, with its curving ramps and stairs, allows for an open interactive viewing, inspiring the visitor to choose his or her own route through the galleries.  Unlike a hierarchical sequenced or ordered movement, this open-ended casual circulation provokes moments of pause, reflection, and discovery.

Photo © Paul Warchol

Photo © Paul Warchol

Photo © Paul Warchol

The curved roof allows secondary skylights while horizontal light is deflected down through the section along the center.  Thus natural light is able to penetrate both upper and lower levels.  The curved roof section with its "refracting" skylight introduces another means for distributing light to galleries below the top level. 

Photo © Paul Warchol

Photo © Paul Warchol

Photo © Paul Warchol

Kiasma-Holl-fifth.jpegKiasma, fifth floor. Photo © Paul Warchol

Through care in development of details and the materials, the Kiasma provides a dynamic yet subtle spatial form, extending towards the city in the south and the landscape to the north.  The geometry has an interior mystery and an exterior horizon which, like two hands clasping each other, form the architectonic equivalent of a public invitation.  Referring to the landscape the interiors are reversible; and form the site which, in this special place and circumstance, is a synthesis of building and landscape...a Kiasma.

/Steven Holl

In the landscape plan, extending the bay up to the building provided an area for future civic development along this tapering body of water, which also serves as a reflecting pool for Finlandia Hall and new development along the south edge of the water.

Sketch courtesy Steven Holl Architects
Concept Sketch

Sketch courtesy Steven Holl Architects

Sketch courtesy Steven Holl Architects

Drawing courtesy Steven Holl Architects
Site Plan

Drawing courtesy Steven Holl Architects
Fourth Floor Plan

Facts about Kiasma, Museum of Contemporary Art

Total Area:

Building Area (square): 130000m2 / 12077m2


Finnish Ministry of Public Building

Design Architect:

Steven Holl

Project Architect:

Vesa Honkonen


Juhani Pallasmaa

Project Architect:

Timo Kiukkola

Structural Engineer:

Insinööritoimisto OY

HVA Engineers:

Insinööritoimisto Olof Granlund OY

Electrical Engineer:

Tauno Nissinen OY

Mechanical Engineer:

Ove Arup

Lighting Consultants:

Tauno Nissinen OY

Fire technical Consultants:

Markku Kauriala Ltd

Glass Consultant:

Engineering Office Aulis Bertin, Ltd

Acoustical Consultants:

Arkkitehtitoimisto Alpo Halme

Theatrical Technical Consultants:


General Contractor:

Seicon OY

Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art

Photographed by Paul Warchol

Last updated: December 19, 2013

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