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Inside Helsinki’s New Underground Art Museum

By Sarah Buder

Sep 6, 2018

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An aerial view of the Amos Rex Museum in Helsinki, Finland.

Photo by Mika Huisman

An aerial view of the Amos Rex Museum in Helsinki, Finland.

Above ground, it looks like a moonscape. Below ground, it feels like another world.

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When Helsinki’s new contemporary art museum opened on August 30, the subterranean space brought a world of immersive art to a 2,400-square-foot area beneath the city’s center. 

Known as Amos Rex, the innovative museum sits below the Lasipalatsi Square in downtown Helsinki, next to one of the Finnish capital’s most notable functionalist buildings, the Lasipalatsi, originally built in the 1930s as an entertainment and retail complex.

The name of the functionalist glass-walled pavilion, Lasipalatsi, translates to “glass palace.”
From above ground, the Amos Rex museum would go largely unnoticed if not for its peculiar-looking rooftop: a series of tiled geometric domes that “bubble up” across the public square.

At surface level, the five concrete structures appear to form an undulating landscape for visitors to explore, but peek through the domes’ glass skylights and you’ll catch a glimpse of the vast, otherworldly museum complex that hides below.

Skylights connect the underground Amos Rex museum to the Lasipalatsi Square above.
Formerly known as the Amos Anderson Art Museum and located in Helsinki’s Yrjönkatu district, the institution has held the art collection of Amos Anderson—a renowned Finnish collector, philanthropist, and entrepreneur—since 1965. When the private museum’s former site became too small to extend its collection any further, Helsinki-based architect firm JKMM was appointed to helm a five-year, $58 million project that, this fall, saw the cultural space relocated, renamed, and redesigned entirely.
The modernist Lasipalatsi building is an important monument of Finnish design.
According to the architects, the newly opened space intends to offer a more “flexible” environment for the museum’s displays of experimental, contemporary, and classical art. Much of Amos Rex’s futuristic design was inspired by the original architecture of its new home, the Lasipalatsi (or “glass palace”), which was also extensively restored as part of the project.
Most of Amos Rex is situated underground, with a series of white domed skylights emerging across the Lasipalatsi Square.
To enter Amos Rex, visitors descend a staircase within the historic Lasipalatsi building that leads to the connected museum’s network of underground galleries. As visitors head downstairs, the museum’s architecture becomes notably more abstract and minimalist. Päivi Meuronen, a JKMM interiors architect, says the above and below ground parts of the museum are like “two different worlds.”
The museum has two floors below ground and two floors above ground, each connected by staircases.
The museum’s inaugural exhibition highlights teamLab, the Japanese tech-art collective behind Tokyo’s new immersive digital art museum. Featuring 140 projectors and an entire room of supercomputers, “teamLab: Massless” comprises five of the collective’s interactive digital projections (including a new teamLab work making its debut at Amos Rex). The vibrant digital exhibition—one of the largest completed by teamLab outside of Japan—runs until January 6, 2019.

Amos Rex is the latest addition to established Helsinki’s cultural quarter, joining nearby institutions including the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, the National Museum of Finland, and the Helsinki Art Museum (HAM).

Amos Rex exhibition halls have structural dome ceilings that transform Helsinki’s Lasipalatsi Square into a moonscape.
General admission to Amos Rex costs €18 (approximately US$21). For visitors under 18 years old, entry to Amos Rex is free.

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