Protean Spaces – With and Without Daylight

 Ulf Meyer
9. October 2018
Photo: Tuomas Uusheimo
Amos Rex opened recently in Helsinki as a new type of art museum. Occupying a building from the 1930s and sitting below a well-known plaza, the private art museum makes a statement above ground through five sculpted skylights. Ulf Meyer visited Amos Rex around its August opening and sent us his take on the museum.
Project: Amos Rex, 2018
Location: Helsinki, Finland
Client: Föreningen Konstsamfundet
Architect: JKMM Architects
Lead Architect: Asmo Jaaksi
Project Architect: Freja Ståhlberg-Aalto, Katja Savolainen
Project Team: Teemu Kurkela, Samuli Miettinen, Juha Mäki-Jyllilä, Edit Bajsz, Christopher Delany, Markus Manninen, Marko Pulli, Katariina Takala, Jarno Vesa, Jussi Vepsäläinen, Päivi Meuronen, Noora Liesimaa
Project Management & Supervision: Haahtela-rakennuttaminen Oy
Structural Design: Sipti Oy
HVAC & Electrical Engineering: Ramboll Talotekniikka Oy
Acoustics and Soundproofing: Ins.tsto Heikki Helimäki Oy / Helimäki Akustikot
Fire consultant: L2 Paloturvallisuus Oy
Gross Area: 13,000 m2
Above Lasipalatsi Square (Photo: Mika Huisman)
Designers of art museums are often hypersensitive about the architectural filtering of bright daylight to protect precious artworks from "aggressive" UV rays. But JKMM Architects designed the newest art museum in their hometown of Helsinki in a contrarian way: they simply didn’t worry about big spots of sunlight hitting the walls or even the artwork in the galleries of their latest museum. Should a scenario arise where daylight isn’t desired, the skylights would — without further ado — be taped and the museum would become a simple black box, suitable for any kind of art.
Beneath Lasipalatsi Square (Photo: Tuomas Uusheimo)
Amos Rex is a private art museum that lies underground, beneath one of the most famous plazas in the Finnish capital. Lasipalatsi Square sits behind the famous Lasipalatsi building, the "glass palace," which was inaugurated in 1936. Designed by Viljö Revell, it was seen as a harbinger of the 1940 Olympic Games, which were cancelled due to the war but had nevertheless brought functionalism to Helsinki. In order to turn the charming Lasipalatsi into a museum, JKMM had to cut the new art spaces right into the granite bedrock on which the center of Helsinki stands. A half-decade earlier, in the expansion of the library designed by Alvar Aalto in Seinäjoki, JKMM showed how confidently they could complement a modernist icon with a contemporary building.
The renovated Glass Palace (Photo: Tuomas Uusheimo)
Amos Rex in Lasipalatsi Square next to the Glass Palace (Photo: Mika Huisman)
Five large, differently shaped domes of reinforced concrete bring daylight into the depth of Amos Rex’s galleries and at the same time create a wavy "urban landscape" in the city. The new plaza is already well used: it invites people to climb to the skylights, to linger on the flatter areas, or to skateboard. Its robust pavement is made of concrete blocks, partially colored yellow. The plaza that is now a surging topography formerly served as a parade ground for the troops of Russian Tsars, who had their barracks here; later it was a bus station. Architect Asmo Jaaksi — the "J" in JKMM — wanted to enrich Helsinki with "a plaza for everyone." He succeeded.
Climbing on and peering into the skylights in the plaza (Photo: Mika Huisman)
Underground (museum) spaces can feel cramped and claustrophobic. In the Amos Rex, it is the daylight and the interlocked spaces that give a generous impression of space. The galleries, up to ten meters tall, are column-free, with white walls, black parquet flooring and ceilings made of thousands of white metal discs. The circular skylights catapult points of light into the galleries on sunny days, something that will certainly cause distress to the curators at times.
8,600 discs cover the ceilings in the exhibition spaces (Photo: Tuomas Uusheimo)
Amos Rex cost well over fifty million Euros. Its catchy name has been combined from "Cinema Rex" and "Amos Anderson Museum." The largest private art museum in Finland, it was founded by the publisher Amos Anderson (1878-1961) and was known as the Amos Anderson Art Museum from 1965 until 2017, one year before Amos Rex took its place. Anderson (1878-1961) founded the "Föreningen Konstsamfundet" and was the owner of the "Hufvudstadsbladet" newspaper. In 1913 he commissioned Palmqvist and Sjöström to build a residential and commercial building for him, within walking distance of the new Amos Rex. Four years after the flamboyant art collector’s death, Anderson’s redidence was opened as a museum. Unfortunately, not a single piece from Amerson’s fine collection of 20th-century Finnish artworks can be seen in the new museum. Nevertheless, the new building enjoys its address along Mannerheimintie, the most famous street in Helsinki.
A smattering of the concrete tiles on the plaza are yellow. (Photo: Tuomas Uusheimo)
For Kai Kartio, the director of Amos Rex, art today is highly "interactive and dialogue-oriented." He defines the new type of art museum as a "cool place to hang out; a proteus-like space that can take various forms and is open to experimentation." In the new building no pictures are hung from the walls; instead, visitors hang out. Kartio has clearly set his sights on a young audience — anybody under 30 years of age enjoys a reduced entrance fee.
Entering the underground galleries (Photo: Tuomas Uusheimo)
Kartio opens his new museum with an immersive and participatory digital art installation by teamLab from Tokyo. The founder of the collective, Toshiyuki Inoko, in his art aims at a "new relationship between man, world and nature." To him, "Digital technology frees art from the physical." The installation Vortex of Light Particles, the centerpiece of the inaugural exhibit (Massless, on display until 9 January 2019), is a simulation of water flowing upwards into an oculus. The traces of "water particles" form lines and inverted waterfalls on the walls that flee to the ceiling in a vortex.
teamLab: Massless (Photo: teamlab.art)
The cultural district of Helsinki already features Kiasma, the grand Music House, the Finlandia Hall, the National Museum, the Ateneum, the Helsinki Art Museum (HAM) and soon the new Oodi Central Library. Amos Rex, courtesy of an important private institution, has enriched the district and added a good dose of cultural energy to Helsinki’s already vibrant city center.
Amos Rex glowing from within (Photo: Mika Huisman)

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