Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art

The Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art was founded in 1990 for the purpose of both popularizing and raising the status of contemporary art in Helsinki. The museum exhibits the contemporary art collection of the Finnish National Gallery, and its basic functions are to organize changing exhibitions and to augment its collection.


The word “chiasma” refers to a crossing of two tracts, such as nerves or chromatids. According to Holl, the “concept of Kiasma involves the building's mass intertwining with the geometry of the city and landscape which are reflected in the shape of the building”.


Holl mentions that he “considered the range of contemporary artwork, and tried to anticipate the needs of a variety of artists including those whose works depend on a quiet atmosphere to bring out their full intensity”. To maintain this quiet the galleries had to be free of clutter, meaning most light fixtures had to be hidden in the architecture. Light pockets in the ceiling provide uniform wall illumination, and the ambient light in the gallery spaces achieves a general lighting of the neutral walls with an imperceptible light source. The artificial lighting was designed to blend with, and to complement the daylighting without being obtrusive. A few removable spots were placed in strategic locations to allow not just flexibility for lighting temporary exhibits, but also to create accentuated contrasts and to add relief. In the public spaces, visible lighting fixtures were employed to offer a contrast with the objectless lighting in the galleries.


L'Observatoire International provided the lighting design for the façade and all interior public spaces

Location Helsinki, Finland
Date Completed 1998
Architect Steven Holl Architects
Local Architect Juhani Pallasmaa
Client National Board of Buildings
Type Museums + Cultural Institutions
size130,000 ft2 / 12,000 m2
Status Built

L'Observatoire Intl Team
Principal Hervé Descottes
Press Air France, Jan 2005
Photo Credits Benoit Pevelli, Timo Kiukkola, L'O, Paul Warchol, Steven Holl