27 May 2019

Amos Rex. A playful landscape in the Lasipalatsi plaza

Helsinki has got its modern and contemporary art museum back – and perhaps much more to boot. The new Amos Rex opened in the Finnish capital last autumn, rising from the ‘ashes’ of the historic private Amos Anderson museum, which, under the curatorship of Kai Kartio and with exhibitions ranging from early 20th century art to works by budding artists, had become one of the country’s leading cultural institutions. The decision to find it a new home – and a new skin - was taken five years ago, with a view to showcasing even more ambitious and unconventional exhibitions than previously. The brief handed to the JKMM practice was anything but simple. The idea revolved around harnessing a pre-existing structure, revamping a nearby iconic building and creating fluid and flexible spaces for avant-garde contemporary art, while also coming up with something totally different and unexpected. A tough remit, but one that was successfully delivered by the renowned Finnish architectural practice.

The new Amos Rex is a large, multifunctional space; but if you’re looking for a new building, you won’t find one. On the outside, it might almost be easy to miss were it not for the large conical domes bulging up into the Lasipalatsi plaza like the eyes of some sea creature, funnelling light and air underground to the immense 6,230 square metre exhibition space and the stunning 2,200 square metre entirely column-free gallery. The tower bearing the logo, however, can be spotted from anywhere in the city. Access is through a historic modernist 30s building containing the iconic, much-loved Bio Rex cinema and an elegant restaurant.

The design solutions for ducting natural light into the underground museum spaces have wrought changes to the topology of the plaza, which has been remodelled into a playful landscape, in order to build five differently angled, different sized domes and skylights for the museum below. These are all self-supporting, freeing the exhibition space from cumbersome structural supports and making for a totally original topography. These artificial hillocks are instantly recognisable and can be used by passers-by as gangways, seats or play space, while acting as “windows on the world” for visitors to the museum below, creating a sense of connection with the city.

The interior of the exhibition space is lined with panels and therefore lends itself naturally to future multimedia art projects. “Our guiding principle has been to create a space that takes into consideration changes in art as well as ever-evolving ways in which art is made and presented. Content-wise, Amos Rex rests on three pillars: experimental, technically innovative contemporary art, 20th century Modernism and ancient cultures,” says Kai Kartio. The Amos Rex is thus destined to play host to the boldest experimentations, unique experiences and amazing encounters - an artistic space in which past, present and future come together seamlessly.