Reflections from the Cistern


Volume 1, Issue 06
September 10, 2015


Project Team: Peter de Bretteville Architect
Competition: Guggenheim Helsinki
Brief: Design a new museum in the Eteläsatama of Helsinki

Working on the Guggenheim competition the summer of 2014 with Peter de Bretteville was a breath of fresh air amongst high-intensity, high-stakes competitions that you so commonly find in a typical firm. Working at Peter’s large library table in the center of his converted cistern house–this unusually sacred spot in New Haven–was the perfect setting to think about architecture. There was a clear hierarchy in the design process from one generation to the next, and it was refreshing to help draft someone else’s spontaneous sketches. I believe he designed the whole project in his tiny Moleskine notebook on a flight back from California. While deliberating over his initial ideas, he talked a lot about his time teaching in Hong Kong and the enormous gantry cranes used in shipping yards. However, the first sketch I saw was of a cylinder, similarly sized to the one we were sitting in. This reminded me that competitions can allow you to design in a very simple and intuitive way: by recalling images and objects stuck in your head.

The urban considerations to scale it to the harbor and to relate it to adjacent buildings drive the exterior character. The internal strategy was to make a huge materials handling exhibition hall using a gantry crane, which also moves the upper galleries, to allow great spatial variations, light control and manipulation. Internally, the circulation, the perimeter hall and balcony, and the triangle of stairs with adjacent elevators remains visible and facilitates a variety of paths through the exhibition spaces. It is material handling, circulation and light at the service of placing, arranging and viewing art.
-Peter de Bretteville

With the right mindset and without the parameters of reality, I think competitions maintain an important position in architecture.

Exploded Axon


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Volume 1, Issue 06
September 10, 2015

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