The Design Museum and the Museum of Finnish Architecture are on the same city block and a single ticket can be bought for access to both.
But the buildings could not be more different.
Where the high school, completed in 1895 but now housing the design museum, is wide and shallow and built in brick in an ornate style that looks to North German Gothic architecture with a skyline of gables and a thin spire, the building of the architecture museum, completed in 1899 for a number of scientific societies, is narrow across the street frontage but the building itself is high and the facade inspired by Classical architecture with pilasters and a clear hierarchy of floor levels set above a rusticated basement with very tall windows regularly spaced across the top floor to light what was presumably a lecture theatre.
The bookshop, library and exhibition rooms of the museum are set around a very imposing but also very beautiful staircase.
Not only are the two museums in buildings of such different styles but they face in opposite directions, turning their backs on each other. There were plans in 1987 to build a shared exhibition space in the wide gap between the two buildings but the idea was abandoned and at the moment the area seems to be a community garden with herbs and vegetables in grow bags.
Perhaps I am reading too much symbolism into this where none is intended because of course craftsmen, product designers and architects should always be close bedfellows.
On the top floor, the museum of architecture has a permanent display of photographs and information panels that pick out major themes that help to explain how the architecture of Helsinki has evolved.
The present temporary exhibition is beautiful and thought provoking. Called Light Houses. Young Nordic Architecture, it is a recreation of an exhibition in the Nordic Pavilion of the 2012 Biennial in Venice. Young architects from Norway, Sweden and Finland have created compact pieces, set or suspended at eye level and in a mixture of materials, more like sculptures than architectural models, that reflect their ideas and concerns about the current state of of their profession.
If there is a clear common thread it seems to be a move away from the architecture of engineering and a return to architecture dependent upon ideas, concerned with ethics and concerned about sustainability ... a sense that architects should be involved with ideas, politics and philosophy as much as with drawing and design.
One comment from the partnership of Haugen/Zohar stood out. They “believe there is a shared Nordic Common Ground, best understood as a fundamental mind set pertaining to a profound relationship to nature and a sincere understanding of our social responsibilities.”