Kiasma is one of the most particular places in Helsinki. It is situated in the heart of the city and it is one of the most notable landmarks.
At the end of the 60s, the modern art movement ended, new approaches to art flourished and the contemporary art movement started to take shape. In order to progress, the new movement needed to take place in flexible places where people from different disciplines could meet and exchange experiences. During the last few decades, museums in different parts of the world dedicated to contemporary art are projected and built to serve this need. One of the most interesting examples of these projects is Kiasma Contemporary Art Museum in Helsinki, designed by American architect Steven Holl.
The name Kiasma comes from Greek. It means a crossing or intersection of two tracts. The reason why Steven Holl chose the name Kiasma is because he intended to complete the missing part of the city texture with the new museum building. The area where the museum is situated had been a subject of many urban design projects. The most interesting project proposed in this area was Alvar Aalto’s proposal. The aim of Aalto’s project was to create a connection between the Töölö area and the city center by building new public facilities. In the end, Aalto was only able to build a part of his project, that is Finlandia Hall. Steven Holl, by building Kiasma, contributes to Aalto's project. On the east side resides the main train station built by Eliel Saarinen. On the west side the Parliament House and on the north side Finlandia Hall, and since 2011 the concert hall Musikkitalo are situated.
A museum is not anymore a place to visit, but it is considered as a place where the public meets with art, where artists interact with other artists or the public, a place where the productions continue, and a place where people live.
Before Kiasma, Ateneum Art Museum was housing Finland's contemporary art collection. In the early 90s, it was decided that Helsinki has to have a museum that is dedicated exclusively to contemporary art. In 1992, an international competition was organized. Out of more than 500 projects, Steven Holl’s project was selected. The architect's interpretation of the requirements of a contemporary art museum was the most important reason for that. The common ground between The New Museum in New York (Sanaa), Maxxi Museum in Rome (Zaha Hadid), and Kiasma, which are all contemporary art museums, is their aim to challenge existing notions of a museum. A museum is not anymore a place to visit, but it is considered as a place where the public meets with art, where artists interact with other artists or the public, a place where the productions continue, and a place where people live.
The design process of Steven Holl begins with watercolor paints. During this process, the architect has the freedom of imagining the details independently of each other. This process enables him to think of a unique architectural composition. Holl’s watercolor paintings contain details such as the passage between the galleries, the lighting, the stairs, the raise, and even the door handles.
Kiasma consists of a set of open and closed spaces. The building has 5 stories. On the ground floor, the visitor finds a cloakroom, a cafe, a shop, and an auditorium. At the core, there are curved raise and stairs which bring visitors to the galleries. Each of the 25 galleries has a different form, dimensions, and lighting details. Every gallery has a transparent sliding door that disappears inside the wall. This separation element helps visitors to feel an open and closed relation between spaces, to determine different paths, and most importantly it gives visitors the opportunity of taking time and thinking about what they have seen.
Museum has a curved design that repeats itself in plans, in sections, and also in structural elements. Lack of natural light during a certain time of the year had been a reason for the architectural decisions that Steven Holl made. The longest sides of the building on the north and south were inclined at 9.5 degrees in order to get more light into the galleries. Almost every gallery that is situated on different floors of the museum is able to get natural light. This is the reason why the architect used the curved layout of the plans while designing the sections.
At the core of the building, there is a raise that follows the curved design. This helps to achieve fluidity within the plans which offer visitors a pleasant and smooth path to walk. In addition, at the city scale, it helps the museum to grip the urban fabric.
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