Bob Dylan apparently said once that an ‘icon’ is just a nice way of saying washed-up has-been. An icon in the Orthodox Church is a representation of a deity, a sacred picture that deserves special attention. Architectural critics have begun to note that as ‘iconic’ buildings multiply around the world they yield diminishing returns. That’s to say, lots of icons competing for attention (the world’s scarcest resource?) create not specialness but ugliness and noise.
Now, plenty of iconic buildings exist that have made the world a better place. Helsinki’s own Temppeliaukio Church comes to mind, though as iconic architecture goes, it kind of goes against the global grain: it’s attention grabbing at the same time as being so descreet that most tourists can’t even find it. Unless, maybe, they’re in a helicopter.
This is relevant today because the USA-based Guggenheim-Foundation has, apparently, agreed to look into the possibility of setting up in Helsinki.
The brilliant and uplifting piece of architecture which houses the original and best Guggenheim Museum in New York, is a wonderful exemplar of iconic architecture. And Gehry’s folly in Bilbao is also excellent. Besides, from some perspectives it’s been successful urban policy.
Well, though YLE reports on these noises, the Guggenheim’s own website only yields a news item from 3 years ago about a Finnish addition to its trustees, a Carl Someone Ehrnrooth. And how many Guggenheims can there be before the brand becomes about as exciting as a Hard Rock Cafe? How in-your-face would it have to be for the tourists to find it?
Could more showy architecture save us from the effects of c**p weather?