Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki, Finland

The Project
The Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art is situated in the heart of Helsinki. To the west lies Parliament, to the east, Eliel Saarinen’s train station, and, to the north, Alvar Aalto’s Finlandia palace.

Kiasma, a ‘forum for Art’
Kiasma is a flexible facility that welcomes shows, dance, music and seminars. From the inside, the view of the outside world connects the building to the city.
In Helsinki, architecture, art and culture are an integral part of the city and landscape. The project benefits from the inter-linking of the mass of the building with the geometry of the city and landscape.
The site, in which the building connects with the landscape, is a chiasma or cross-shaped configuration (kiasma in Finnish).
The curved shape of the building creates a ‘natural line’ that connects it to the neighbouring landscape and the Bay of Töölö which, when the weather is clear, “extends all the way to Lapland”, according to Aalto.
The slight variations in the shapes and dimensions of the rooms are due to the curve of the building.
The visitor sees an uninterrupted succession of changing perspectives throughout the building.

Glass and natural light
The design of an art museum with the galleries on several floors raises lighting problems. While natural light penetrates the upper galleries, the same does not apply to the lower levels: artificial light is required.
In Helsinki, a northern city, natural light arrives horizontally. Natural light penetrates the building through the curved ‘Glass Wall’ and thus reaches both the upper and lower levels.
On the roof, skylights capture the light and lead it to the galleries situated below the upper level.
The curve of the building, its morphology and use of glass for its light-transmitting properties have enabled natural lighting to be supplied to the 25 galleries.
The 1999 Prize from the American Institute of Architects was awarded to the building for the quality of its design.

Pilkington Profilit™, in the service of Art
The great glass wall with its double curve is constructed of Pilkington Profilit™, a profiled glass generally used in industrial constructions.

The greenish tint normally produced by iron oxide in float glass has been attenuated by using Pilkington Optiwhite™ glass in the windows of the gallery. The daylight penetrating the building thus retains its natural properties and does not detract from the spirit of the works of art on show.

Most of the glazing surfaces have been ground. Instead of sand, aluminium oxide or silica was used, creating a prismatic surface which refracts light. The other walls of the building, structural components, are steel curtain walls.

Photography: © Jussi Tiainen
  Project ReferenceGL_PR0043
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Project Details
Mannerheiminaukio 2, 00100 Helsinki, Finland
Opening Date
May 1998
Building Type
  • Museums and Cultural Building
About the Architect/Installer
Steven Holl and Juhani Pallasmaa Architects
Benefit Led Categories
  • Glass Systems
  • Enhanced Visibility