Smart Design Studio - Sydney Architects


The Sara Hilden Art Museum is a major cultural centre in the Finnish industrial city Tampere. The project called for the relocation of the museum from the city’s periphery into the historic city centre. Our response was to create a beautiful, contemporary and elegant brick structure that balances the practical requirements of a 21st century art museum with a poetic, civic and iconic response. The form and materials embed the building to its locale, a former industrial setting, while the sculpted Great Hall, is an invitation for all to come and be illuminated by art or alternatively, just hang out.

A Great Hall (13m high and 42m in length) is at the design’s centre and acts like a giant bridge to transfer loads of the galleries and auditoriums above down to the ground. This space is experienced as a 21st century art cathedral – gathering people to reflect, feel and contemplate. The transparent foyer will activate both the park and the adjoining streets throughout the year, even during European summers.The building’s form  maintains the historic visual link between Finlayson Palace and the Wilhelm von Nottbeck Park. It creates an all-weather internal public space, with dissolved boundaries to the outside and thus, an invitation to all. The catenary vault appears carved from a block of masonry, which is scaled to the street-wall height of adjacent buildings. This makes the building part of the city and forms the edge of the park, with a role to play in providing amenity and activation to the park.

Independent access to the café, bookshop, auditorium and workshop enables the museum to efficiently extend its operations without opening the museum. This flexibility helps the gallery to become actively engaged with the city and more than a museum for art. A separate servicing building for conservation, workshops and administration facilities, connected via a secure below ground art path, enables the museum to be transparent and open on the ground floor. As a result, this space is liberated to be used entirely for public and community functions, with access that is independent to the opening of the galleries which can be costly. A dedicated art path enables unfettered, secured access to all galleries. Without crossing any visitor access routes, the installations are able to occur at any time and even be watched by the public.


Our design proposes an iconic interior and circulation areas connecting large, flexible white-box exhibition spaces. Three adaptable, column free and white-box exhibition spaces house the museum’s significant collection of modern art and accommodate an ambitious exhibition program. Encircling each gallery is an elevated mezzanine walkway, which offers a birds-eye view over the exhibition areas, allowing a new perspective for art and creating other opportunities. For example, these mezzanines can be accessed when exhibitions are being changed, offering a secure and safe “behind the scenes” experience. Likewise, these disconnected spaces allow an overview of an exhibition for after-hours viewing, large groups or special dignitaries. This flexibility allows the museum to reveal its operations as a dynamic place.

The column-free exhibition spaces ensure maximum flexibility and optimum sustainability. The raised false-floor accommodates all services (including electrical and mechanical air conditioning) and the grid baffle ceiling incorporates a track system for hanging artworks and partitions alike.The combination of different exhibition spaces includes:

  • 13m tall Great Hall for arrivals, sculpture and public performance
  • 70m long major 1200m2 top-lit column-free gallery
  • Two immersive black-out able exhibition spaces (600m2 and 500m2) for new media installations
  • Dramatic 10m tall gallery
  • Cinema/auditorium for new media works and public lectures.



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