In Helsinki, an award-winning pavilion prepares to serve its second biennial
By Niall Patrick Walsh|
Thursday, Dec 15, 2022
In 2021, Verstas Architects completed the Helsinki Biennial Pavilion to serve as the entry point to that year’s Helsinki Biennial art festival. In addition to marking the beginning of the visitor journey through the festival, the pavilion was imagined by its designers as a "free, open space for everyone," that could provide "shelter and a serene respite from the bustling city" throughout the year.
Two years after its completion, the waterfront pavilion will once again fulfil its welcoming role at the 2023 edition of the Helsinki Biennial, where it will greet visitors preparing to depart by ferry towards the biennial's site on Vallisaari island. As it prepares to host its summer biennial visitors, the pavilion was recently honored at the 2022 Architecture MasterPrize, recognized for its contribution to the biennial and wider city in the award’s Architecture Design – Cultural Architecture category.
“The distinctive ponds of Vallisaari island, created by natural rocks, are unique,” said Verstas Architects principal Jussi Palva, reflecting on the scheme. “The ponds were formed during the ice age when the circular motion of the rocks carved bays on the cliffs when the ice melted. This round movement of rocks has created exiting forms that are the size of pond. These elements were our inspiration when designing the pavilion. Our aim was to bring a piece of the archipelago's nature to the harbor.”
Constructed using local timber in a carpenter’s workshop, the fabrication process for the pavilion was guided by a digital 3D model. The prefabricated modules for the pavilion were shipped by sea and loaded directly onto the site for installation. While the decision to construct the pavilion of prefabricated modules was driven by the view that the pavilion would be dismantled after its first biennial, organizers ultimately left the pavilion in place throughout the year, feeling it “has a much bigger role to play” in the city.
The scheme will nonetheless be dismantled in 2024. Until then, it will serve as a “public open-air living room space where one can pause and enjoy the presence of the sea in the heart of the city,” according to the design team.
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