An exclusive look inside Helsinki's experimental new landmark

Story highlights

  • Helsinki City Museum is reopening in the capital's historic quarters
  • The new museum features interactive exhibitions and virtual reality displays

Helsinki, Finland (CNN)On May 13, Finland debuts a cultural experiment eight years in the making as the Helsinki City Museum reopens in the capital's historic quarter.

"The museum is the core of Helsinki history," said project manager Ulla Teras ahead of the opening. "It's been our goal to make this unlike any other museum space or public place."
    The new museum -- which combines five buildings dated from the 1750s to 1920s -- is an interactive, informal institution where touching is not only allowed, but encouraged, and the past is in constant conversation with the present.
    In place of foreboding glass cabinets and velvet ropes, the museum features tableaux from Helsinki life, virtual reality tours of the city over the decades, and an exhibition of stories and objects sourced from heartbroken locals.

    The heart of Helsinki

    The reinvention started in 2008 when the city granted the 110-year-old museum -- which has multiple, smaller outposts throughout Helsinki -- a rare opportunity to relocate its flagship to the historic Tori Quarters.
    Walking-distance from designer boutiques and all four of the city's Michelin-starred restaurants -- as well as the historic port market and whitewashed Helsinki Cathedral, tourist favorites -- the new location is located in what has become Helsinki's cultural hub.
    But what started as simple relocation turned into an opportunity for the team to reassess their mission, and work toward becoming a true community destination.
    "The core has remained the same: we have to tell the story of Helsinki, and document and record the history. But of course the ways, the means, the methods to do this are completely different," says museum director Tiina Merisalo.
    Local firms Arkkitehdit Davidsson Tarkela and Kakadu were enlisted to weave hallmarks of what Teras calls "everyday Helsinki history" into the architecture and interior design respectively, whether through the inclusion of vintage Finnish design details in the lobby furniture, or the preservation of Art Deco-era bannisters in a stairwell.
    "The museum offers a platform for you to think, explore and get to know this city and its history, and then relate to that and have a personal relationship with it -- and maybe even fall in love with Helsinki," Teras says.
    "Of course the museum offers a lot for tourists, but we really wanted to make it a place residents of Helsinki can come and visit over and over again."

    A private tour

    Earlier this week, while some corridors still awaited light fixtures and the smell of paint and plaster hung in the air, CNN Style was given an exclusive opportunity to tour the space with the designers, architects and organizers who know it better than everyone.
    Check out the gallery above for an exclusive sneak peek at the new museum, and the clever design details hidden within.