Kiasma

22 Aug

Kiasma (1992-1998) is Helsinki’s Contemporary Art Museum. Like Saarinen’s Central Railway Station, a competition was held to pick a design for the new art space in Helsinki. The winner, Steven Holl, was the sole architect of international renown to enter from the United States.

This building’s name and philosophy are based on the term chiasma (in Greek, χίασμα), meaning “crossing.” From Holl’s website:

“The concept of Kiasma involves 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.”

The architecture may look familiar for those of you who have visited Cranbrook’s campus. Holl also designed and built the Cranbrook Institute of Science (1993-1998).

Holl’s consideration of human scale and the light in the design imbue the space with a palpable sense of calm. Despite the height of the ceiling, the curvature of the pure white wall on the right has a cradling effect. I felt small by comparison to the overall size of the building but somehow, the division of space within the building is manageable. In Kiasma, Holl is very conscious of the placement of the building within the city and of the museum attendants within the space. When I entered this museum, I immediately left the city behind and was transported to a much more contemplative, austere space.

The experience of the light within the space also encourages reflection. Fluorescent lights illuminate individual galleries but many of the spaces like the lobby pictured above are lit mostly by natural light. The glass walls and ceilings have been sandblasted, softening the light as it enters the museum. To guarantee the natural quality of the light, the greenish tint of the glass (ferric dioxide) was also extracted. Seasonal or daily changes in the natural light are controlled electronically so the quality of the light is consistent– bright, yet indirect. While many other people were wandering around the museum, somehow the experience still felt very private and removed. By contrast, Detroit’s Museum of Contemporary Art, a renovated car dealership, is inseparable from the character and history of the city. Kiasma, on the other hand, invites an experience of contemporary art as a departure from daily life.

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3 Responses to “Kiasma”

  1. nichole August 26, 2010 at 5:33 pm #

    this building looks amazing. and the LIGHT in all of your photos…! i always thought that the light in paris was different: thinner maybe, more white, not as yellow and creamy. it looks like the same phenomenon in finlandia. your thoughts?

    • hellosinki August 26, 2010 at 7:13 pm #

      Definitely. That was something that seemed immediately strange to me. The first day I was here, the light seemed blinding in a way to me– much whiter. It’s not like anything that I’ve experienced and I even think that the clouds somehow are very different, too. I’ll take more pictures of this to show you. I can’t tell if I am making it up, but it really does seem like I am looking at the sky from the top of the world. It’s amazing!

      • hellosinki August 26, 2010 at 7:16 pm #

        And the shadows are different, too. The afternoon doesn’t feel like the afternoon if you are gauging the passage of time on the shadow of a tree. It seems like it should be much later and the shadows seem more severe.

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