Each ray of sunlight shapes this building. The far northern latitude of Helsinki, with very long times of daylight in summer and very short times of daylight in winter, invites a dynamic response. The result is a building whose upper volume seems to float, reflecting the precise movement of the sun in relation to the site. Light dances in between the upper and lower parts of the building, marking the void defined by the longest and shortest days of the year.
Situated on a harbor, standing parallel to the western part of the Helsinki grid, this museum-as-observatory offers visitors simultaneous views of art and the environment. After sunset, visitors can see Polaris (the North Star) by looking through a telescopic channel that runs up the core of the building. This thin, cylindrical void is also the central spine (or eye of the stair) of a grand curvilinear staircase that links the ground with the upper gallery spaces, while a straight stairwell situated high above the lobby connects the two volumes directly.
The volumes themselves do not touch, allowing the sun to pass between them and reach the lobby floor at all times, casting ever-changing shadows throughout the space. The openness of the vaulted spaces enhances the experience of viewing the museum’s collection, as well as exposing the building’s unique structural nature. The vaulted roof protects the artwork from direct sunlight, while its sheltering shape flows down toward the earth. In contrast, the bowl-shaped upper volume reaches toward the sky, creating an ideal floor for an auditorium where seating ascends along contour lines.
A museum has to have a strong recognizable character while remaining flexible enough to accommodate all types of exhibitions and events. The earth-bound volume offers a café, museum store, offices, and a range of concentrated, chapel-like spaces designated for open plan shows. In the floating volume, an auditorium hosts performances, lectures, and discussions, while a roof terrace/sculpture garden, fine dining restaurant, and cocktail bar invite visitors to enjoy views across the city and beyond. Museums are about understanding our society and culture in relationship to our planet and the universe; the Art Observatory strives to capture this dynamic experience.