Project leader Kaarina Gould: Museums can play a significant role in public discussion

Kaarina Gould has taken up her duties as Project Director for the new architecture and design museum. In this newsletter interview, she expresses her thoughts on the museum project and museums of the future, reflecting on the International Museum Day that is celebrating today. The theme for this year’s International Museum Day is “The Future of Museums: Recover and Reimagine.”

In what ways will the new museum be promoted? How will this process be?

Establishing a new museum is a bit like assembling a big jigsaw puzzle. One of the corners is the museum’s strategic concept of operations and programs. The concept informs what kinds of experiences and encounters the new museum will offer. The second corner is specifying the organization model required for running this new museum. The third corner encompasses the economic and financial matters related to it. The fourth important corner of this puzzle is the new museum building and it’s location, which will be developed in close collaboration with the team responsible for the City of Helsinki’s development of the South Harbor area in Helsinki.  

Preparations regarding all these areas have been underway for some quite some time now. The necessary conditions for the realisation of the new museum project are indeed there. Our goal for the next few years is to produce a plan that the final decisions to implement the new museum can be made. 

In May, International Museum Day is celebrating with the theme “The Future of Museums: Recover and Reimagine.” What do you think the museum of the future will be like? What will be required of it?

The museum of the future must be able to meet many needs and expectations. It should represent in-depth visionary expertise on both the past and the future. It should serve as an open, experiential place for learning and interaction and provide engaging ancillary services that deepen the museum experience. In addition to this, the museum of the future should facilitate encounters and produce content that will also reach audiences beyond its walls. Moreover, all this should be done in a way that invites a broad range of groups and communities feel they have ownership of the museum.

What makes this project internationally unique?

In the Nordic countries design and architecture are uniquely linked to society and identity – this means that if the museum is realised, it will not only showcase the disciplines it represents, but also tell a bigger story about our society. 

The rest of the world has waited for this museum for at least as long as we have – considering our heritage and expertise in the fields of architecture and design, we’re almost obligated to build it. The new architecture and design museum is also one of the most significant design and architecture museum projects currently underway in the world – from an international point of view, it is extremely interesting what kinds of decisions we will make as we design and build a museum for the post-pandemic era, an era where the impact on climate of every new initiative should be thoroughly considered.

Has the pandemic period given rise to new museum-related innovations that could also be utilised and developed further in the concept for the new museum?

In a way, it’s great that we are just now really kicking off this long-awaited museum project. Even though the coronavirus pandemic has caused extreme hardship, we now also have a completely new perspective on how museums and other cultural institutions can serve audiences. This is a perspective that we naturally cannot ignore when developing the concept for the new museum. I’m convinced that the activities created during the pandemic period, the digital content, virtual exhibition tours and discussions, are here to stay and will be developed further.  

What do you regard as a unique museum experience?

A museum visit can be unique in so many ways. Sometimes what you remember best is a moment shared with a friend or family member. I visit museums alone especially when I’m travelling. During those visits, my perspective is a bit different; the perspective of a professional. However, the best part is always when you learn something new. Sometimes an exhibition will offer you new insight, sometimes it will happen at the museum book shop, and sometimes it comes to you as you’re sitting at the museum restaurant with a glass of wine.

How do you see the role of museums in the future? What kind of a role should museums play in society?

I do believe that museums can play a significant role in public discussion. Museums represent the memory, current phenomena and future prospects of our society, and they are focal points for community encounters. I can’t think of an entity better suited to be at the centre of the debate.

The architecture and design museum represents fields that play a significant role in the functionality and future of our society. Design – whether it be the design of our built, material environment or systemic thinking – always strives towards new, better solutions and actions. If there ever was a time for hopeful actions and solutions that aim at a better future, it is now.

Photograph: Paavo Lehtonen