The idea for Amos Rex Art Museum was launched in September 2013 when the foundation Konstsamfundet, which runs the Amos Andersson Art Museum, put forth a proposal to the City of Helsinki to build new museum facilities adjacent to the functionalistic gem Lasipalatsi (Glass Palace).
Lasipalatsi dates back to 1933. The architecture students Arvo Aalto, Niilo Kokko, Olavi Laisaari, Viljo Revell and Heimo Riihimäki founded the company Oy Lasipalatsi Ab with the intention of rent a former army barracks plot to erect a temporary commercial building. In 1935 the Finnish retailing cooperative SOK together with the butter export cooperative Valio bought the company from the architecture students and commissioned Kokko, Revell and Riihimäki to design the temporary building.
Lasipalatsi was completed in 1936. It was a new building type in Finland, a bazaar, which combined leisure-time and commercial functions. Business premises with entrances on both sides of the building and a restaurant sitting 700 diners were intended to serve the forthcoming visitors to the planned 1940 Helsinki Olympic Games. The reinforced-concrete post-and-beam system is an early example of a new structural system. Lasipalatsi was also a pioneering work in heating, ventilation and air-conditioning. The electrical and lighting design also represented new thinking. The Bio Rex cinema forms one wing of the U-shaped building that wraps around a public square.
Konstsamfundet commissioned JKMM Architects to design Amos Rex Art Museum. The construction started in January 2016, and the museum was inaugurated in August 2018. The smart design solution treats the old listed building with respect yet makes the contemporary architecture visible. The new spaces were excavated next to Lasipalatsi building, under a public square. The domes of the exhibition halls protrude from the square surface turning into mounds crowned by round skylights, thus creating an interesting topography to the square. In addition to being an art museum, Amos Rex has changed the Lasipalatsi Square into a new favourite spot in the heart of Helsinki.
The concrete dome structure of the exhibition halls, with a 30-metre span in the largest one, enables the lack of vertical supports, making the spaces very flexible for different kinds of exhibitions. The skylights create a connection between the museum and the square. The old chimney-stack standing in the middle of the square now serves as a ventilation shaft and fire escape.
The old Lasipalatsi building went through a gentle renovation with only minor changes such as a new staircase down to the exhibition halls. The main facade on Mannerheimintie street retained its original modernist appearance. The interior colour scheme follows the original tones. Since the building’s completion in 1936, the first floor has been occupied by Restaurant Lasipalatsi. Today, the restaurant interior is listed. The north wing of the complex is characterised by the shape of the legendary Bio Rex cinema, still used for film screenings, while the museum administration now occupies the upper floor of the south wing. The ground floor is for commercial premises.
The chief architect of Amos Rex is Asmo Jaaksi, also responsible for JKMM’s Think Corner and Turku and Seinäjoki libraries.
Lasipalatsi is listed on the DOCOMOMO Finland registered selection of important architectural and environmental modernist sites.