Helsinki’s new subterranean art museum opens its doors Domed skylights offer tantalizing glimpses into the Amos Rex museum’s sprawling underground galleries. (Mika Huisman/Tuomas Uusheimo)
Helsinki’s new subterranean art museum opens its doors
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Finland was set to host the Olympics. They would host the 1940 Summer Games. Three young architects were given permission to design one of the temporary structures. There would be many structures. The structures would would welcome visitors. 

The result was a shopping center. It had offices. It had restaurants. It had a movie theater. The building soon earned the name Lasipalatsi. It was known as the “Glass Palace.” It was encased in window panels. 

Then German forces invaded Poland. This was on September 1, 1939. It began World War II. It also rescued Lasipalatsi. It might have been torn down. That's according to Michael Hunt. He was writing for Artnet News. The Olympics’ took awartime hiatus. Finland saw post-war financial difficulties. Both of these stopped Finnish officials from taking down the Glass Palace. They didn’t replace it with a new structure. A new structure would have been built for the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. These were rescheduled games. Lasipalatsi endured. It became a popular local landmark. Things changed by the 1980s. The structure had become an unwelcome strain on the city’s finances.

Today it is beloved. It brings in money. This is thanks in large part to Amos Anderson. He is an art patron. He is also a newspaper publisher. He created the Amos Rex Museum. It cost $60 million. It is an art bunker. It is futuristic. It is nestled beneath the Glass Palace. It opened to the public in August.

It is a new museum. It was designed by JKMM. It is a Helsinki architecture firm. That's according to The Guardian’s Oliver Wainwright. There are sprawling underground galleries. These stretch across 23,350 square feet. There are domed skylights. These are covered in simple geometric patterns. They dot the landscape. They pour light down to the exhibition spaces below.

The bulk of the museum rests below a square. It is beside Lasipalatsi. It once housed Helsinki’s main bus station. That's according to Giovanna Dunmall. She writes for Wallpaper*. All traces of this bus station are gone. It was replaced. It is now the sweeping curvature of the Amos Rex’s skylights.

“The biggest challenge was how to make [the museum] visible in the cityscape,” Asmo Jaaksi. He is a founding partner at JKMM. This is what he told Architectural Digest’s Nadja Sayej. “We wanted to have the square open but still draw people from aboveground to underground. So we came up with these domed forms. They try to be unto the building but not obtrusive.”

Jaaksi adds that Lasipalatsi was “very well built.” This is despite the fact that it was meant to be a temporary structure. That's according to an interview with Wallpaper*’s Dunmall. 


The Glass Palace's eclectic charm remains. Inside there are salmon-colored columns. These are next to glass light fixtures. These jut out from red and blue ceilings. Outside is Lasipalatsi’s one-time chimney. It stands tall. It stand amidst the skylights. It looks more like a lighthouse than a ventilation system.

Lasipalatsi’s has a very notable feature. It is the Bio Rex movie theater. It closed a decade ago. But now it open again. It is splendid. It has 590 seats. These are covered in bright red fabric. It has circular ceiling lights. These hover above the auditorium. They look like UFOs. They give off a steady glow. They guide viewers across the space. The theater serves as the Amos Rex’s entrance. It provides passage to the galleries below. That's according to Artnet News’ Hunt.


The museum draws on foundations left by Amos Anderson. He was an art lover. He had a collection of 19th- and 20th-century Finnish art. It forms the bulk of the institution’s permanent collection. The Amos Rex was once called the Amos Anderson Art Museum. It operated out of its patron’s former home. This was prior to construction of the new space. The museum began to outgrow the house in the 2010s. It acquired the Lasipalatsi. It was transformed. Its surrounding grounds were also changed. They were made into an innovative 21st-century structure. It offered the ideal solution for both institutions’ organizational woes.

Oddly, Amos Rex’s first exhibition makes little use of the gaping skylights. These overlook its galleries. Curators have opted to highlight the subterranean nature of the museum. They blocked out natural light. This was to present an immersive digital experience. It was created by Japanese art collective teamLab. The show is entitled “Massless.” It rejects materiality. It is favor of “dissolving the notion of mass” and creating an otherworldly environment. That's according to teamLab’s website.

“Massless” runs through January 6, 2019. It is accompanied by a selection of post-impressionist art. It was collected by Sigurd Frosterus. He is a Finnish architect. He is an essayist. And he is an art critic. There will be more exhibitions. These will include works by Amsterdam collective Studio Drift. It will also include Belgian surrealist René Magritte.

Kai Kartio is head of Amos Rex. He spoke with Metropolis Magazine′s George Kafka.  He said that the new structure is ready to handle both large-scale installations like “Massless.” It is also ready for more traditional exhibitions.

“It’s not about just hanging things on the wall any more, or putting a sculpture to stand in the middle of a beautiful space,” Kartio explains. “We have no idea what kind of visual work we are going to be surrounded by in 20 or 30 years’ time. So we wanted a space that would be as open as possible. We wanted a space that would put as few limits on what one is able to install there as possible.”

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