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Helsinki Art Museum weighs move to old Suvilahti gasometer

HAM may relocate from the Tennis Palace to the former power plant, but such a move would be at least four years off.

Paketoitu kaasukello Suvilahdessa.
The brick gasometer is now covered with scaffolding. Image: Mårten Lampén / Yle

The Helsinki Art Museum (HAM) is looking into a possible new location outside the city centre. One option could be a former gas holder (or gasometer) built in 1910 as part of the Suvilahti power plant. The district is now home to various cultural institutions and hosts annual music festivals such as Flow and Tuska.

While Suvilahti is now mostly quiet except during the summer festival season, the city wants to turn it into a year-round hive of cultural activity, and HAM may be part of that vision.

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Helsingin taidelaitoksia ja HAM suunniteltu uusi paikka Suvilahdessa.
HAM would be the first major museum to leave downtown Helsinki. Image: Jyrki Lyytikkä / Yle

The area is now home to the Eskus Performance Centre and the Cirko circus centre among other organisations.

Suvilahti's two early-twentieth-century gasometers are now under renovation, and their potential feasibility as art venues is being studied. HAM is considering the larger brick one, where work is to be completed by the end of this year.

"Developing the eastern part of central Helsinki into a cultural centre is one of the city's goals. An art museum could be a fine way to accelerate that," says Tommi Laitio, executive director of culture and leisure for the city of Helsinki.

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Suvilahden Kaasukellon punahehkuinen ympäristö kuvattuna keskiviikkoiltana.
The possible site is the brick gasometer in the rear, which is now being restored. Image: Flow Festival / Jussi Hellsten

The idea for the move came from HAM Director Maija Tanninen-Mattila, formerly director of the Ateneum Art Museum.

She tells Yle that HAM could well move to somewhere such as Suvilahti after 20 years in the central Kamppi district. It is now based in the Tennis Palace, originally built as an Olympic venue in 1938.

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Maija Tanninen-Mattila HAMissa.
HAM Director Maija Tanninen-Mattila Image: Mårten Lampén / Yle

In August 2018, HAM gained a nearby competitor when the Amos Rex art museum opened in the Glass Palace, just a stone's throw away. It has proved popular since, with long queues for some exhibitions.

Tanninen-Mattila dismisses the notion that HAM might be moving because it has been overshadowed by Amos Rex. She also makes it clear that HAM is not under any pressure to leave the Tennis Palace, which is also home to the Museum of Cultures, a cinema complex and other facilities. The HAM venue houses thousands of works of art, including frescoes and other works by Tove Jansson.

"Now we're just studying and thinking about whether HAM would have an option of moving to Suvilahti," she says. The gas holder building would be a smaller space than the current venue, but would still apparently be large enough to house major international exhibitions.

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Paketoitu kaasukello Suvilahdessa.
Suvilahti is quiet outside of festival season. Image: Mårten Lampén / Yle

Suvilahti's main buildings were designed in the Viennese Art Nouveau style by architect Selim A. Lindqvist (1867-1939). His other works in Helsinki include the Aleksi 13 department store, the Cafe Strindberg building on the North Esplanade and Villa Ensi in the Eira district.

Tanninen-Mattila, who has led HAM since 2013, is enthusiastic about the idea of moving to Suvilahti. She points to HAM's history as a “nomadic museum.” From 1976 to 2012, it was located in a smaller building in Meilahti, which turned out to have a mould problem.

"A museum should reinvent itself on a regular basis," she says.

Another possible location might be the Hanasaari Power Plant, adjacent to Suvilahti. The coal-fired plant is expected to be decommissioned by 2025. A final decision on its future is to be made this spring. Finland has banned the use of coal after 2029.

A full renovation of HAM's premises at the Tennis Palace was completed in 2015 at a cost of some 3.5 million euros.

Laitio says it is too early to speculate about how much a potential move to Suvilahti would cost. In any case he says it would not happen for four or five years.

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