The Kiasma is a contemporary art museum, built between 1992 and 1998, in Helsinki, Finland. Its name "kiasma" is taken from the greek word for crossing. It was introduced by the building's architect, the American Steven Holl and relates to the notions of intertwining and exchange which are at the root of his design concept aimed at physically connecting the building to the city and metaphorically creating a meeting place for fruitful cultural exchanges.
Until 1998 the Museum of Contemporary Art was settled in the Ateneum Art Museum, sharing its exhibition spaces with the Museum of Finnish Art. To strengthen the status of contemporary art, the Finnish government decided to hold an international design competition to design an independent contemporary arts museum in Helsinki in 1992. In 1993 the work Chiasma by the Steven Holl was selected from 516 competitors. The construction started in 1996 and the museum was opened in 1998.
The museum is made up of two blocks, one smaller and rectilinear and the other bigger and curving. The two blocks are aligned until the bigger curves and intersect the smaller. Zinc, aluminum and glass are the principal used materials. Vertical circulation is facilitated by a long and curved ramp that links the different floors and allows visitors to gradually immerse themselves in the Museum atmosphere, enhanced by the delicate natural light filtered by the sandblasted glass roof. Due to the curving wall and roof the rooms are all lightly different in size and natural illumination, acquiring more character. One of the key elements of Kiasma is light. The building has a great number of transparent surfaces. The big double-curved glass wall is made from glass planks, which are mainly used in industrial buildings. The greenish element has been removed from the building's glass walls and gallery windows in order to ensure that the light entering is natural daylight. The amount of light is controlled electronically to take into account seasonal and daily fluctuations. Because of the curved roof, the 'bow-tie' windows presented a challenge for the builders. The artificial lighting was designed by Herve Descottes (L'Observatoire International, Paris, New York) together with Steven Holl and Vesa Honkonen. Julle Oksanen provided technical assistance in the details.
From the architect's website: "The Helsinki Museum of Contemporary Art provides a variety of spatial experiences. We considered the range of contemporary artwork, and tried to anticipate the needs of a variety of artists including those whose works depend on a quiet atmosphere to bring out their full intensity. An exhibition space that works for an expressive and unpredictable artist such as Vito Acconci, must also work for artist such as Agnes Martin and Richard Tuttle. The general character of the rooms, which are almost rectangular with one wall curved, allows for a silent yet dramatic backdrop for the exhibition of contemporary art. These rooms are meant to be silent, but not static; they are differentiated through their irregularity.
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 Toolo Bay. In the landscape plan, extending the bay up to the building will provide an area for future civic development along this tapering body of water, which also serves as a reflecting pool for Finlandia Hall and new development along the south edge of the water. The horizontal light of northern latitudes is enhanced by a waterscape that would serve as an urban mirror, thereby linking the museum to Helsinki's Toolo heart, which on a clear day, in Aalto's word's, "extends to Lapland." The changes in elevation proposed with the water extension and it shallow depth would allow for parking decks and/or highway linkages which are presently part of various planning considerations."
The outdoor lights in front of Kiasma were designed by Juhani Pallasmaa. Pallasmaa also designed the street and yard spaces around the statue of Mannerheim. The lawn area facing the Parliament building was designed by Steven Holl.