The architects of the Helsinki Central Library, Oodi, have designed a stage for meetings that beckons and will stand the test of time. Almost all of the space at Oodi is public and significant.
The Helsinki Central Library, Oodi, will open to the public in December. The grand, undulating building stands in a central location in Töölönlahti, only a stone’s throw from the Finlandia Hall, the Helsinki Music Centre, Kiasma, Sanomatalo and the Helsinki main railway station.
Oodi was designed by the Helsinki architect firm ALA, which won the open international central library architecture competition organised by the City of Helsinki in 2013. Oodi is built by YIT.
Antti Nousjoki, Juho Grönholm and Samuli Woolston from ALA see Oodi as the meeting place of people from all walks of life and different cultures.
“Our proposal transformed into a physical environment the City of Helsinki’s mindscape as well as the wishes that had been stored on the project during the approximately 10 years of preparation,” says Nousjoki.
To the architects’ mind, as a new building Oodi must be more than the sum of its individual square metres. All of the space is public and significant. When building on such valuable land, it is of symbolic importance to make sure that each square metre has its own purpose.
“Instead of having a common building displaying some interesting architectural details, we have a powerful total concept. A closer inspection of the details reveals clear rational functions,” continues Nousjoki.
Three levels, three realities
Oodi’s architecture merges with the urban beat over three distinctive levels. It was important to the architects that Oodi utilise its great location and the surrounding urban life.
“The space plan created by the City of Helsinki for the library strongly featured three main groups of functionalities. It felt natural to divide them into different levels,” explains Grönholm.
On the ground level, the library meets the user and the users meet each other. Information is actively shared, and the large space allows for a bit of noise. The entrance floor also includes a pram park and a dining area. The workshop-like spaces of the first floor allow users to get together, for instance, around a 3D printer to engage in activities that require a closed space.
The top floor contains the typical quiet library spaces where people can focus on learning and reading. The walls of the top floor’s book heaven are made entirely of glass. Light wells have been punched through the white ceiling, and the light oak floor curves slightly upwards at the ends. Looking down from the peak-like balcony, the library users are on the same level as the columns of the Parliament House.
“The architecture of the Parliament House represents the way the people are ruled from behind columns at the end of long staircases. The citizens’ balcony of the city library elevates books, the library and people to the same level as the powers that be,” says Grönholm.
Children have also been given the opportunity to be part of the library’s finest material landscape.
“At the north end of the top floor, we have designed a 1,000-square-metre children’s section spread over two levels. The rising wood surface hides underneath it individual spaces, fairy tale rooms. The little ones get to observe the whole from above, over the rows of books,” Nousjoki adds.
Romantic counterreaction to hard and straight surroundings
Certain elements are repeated in the work of the architect firm ALA: curving wood surfaces and contrasting glass. Sharp contrasts are typical of the designers of Oodi.
“We designed the library as a romantic counterreaction to its hard and straight surroundings. The wood surfaces are made of Finnish spruce and they create a sharp contrast with the glass and metal surroundings. The buildings around Oodi also reflect the wood beautifully,” says Woolston.
In Oodi, wood represents the nature. In its own way, it talks about the history of a forested country. The glass wall of the top floor, on the other hand, shows the mark of the human hand. According to the architects, the intention was to create a building that is impressive but, first and foremost, inviting.
“The large vault, the large covered front and the warm, soft material were chosen because they appear approachable regardless of the source of interest. Oodi was not designed for a single experience only,” Woolston continues.
The building is resting on two strong steel arches.
“This displays the same kind of romanticism as Kiasma’s clear arches and suspense even though the two buildings are from two different eras,” says Nousjoki.
Oodi to stand test of time
The adaptability of Oodi’s storeys and their suitability for different functions were taken into account, not only for the present but also with an eye on future requirements. The Helsinki Central Library has been created to live with the developing city.
“With digitalisation, the importance of printed materials has changed, but a physical book still stands its ground. The building is an open platform that enables it to develop as well as possible at the same time as the library’s operations and contents develop,” explains Nousjoki.
The architects felt strongly that in addition to providing services for users, the architecture of the library should touch them in some way.
“We have been thinking about how Oodi presents itself in the centre of the city, looking from the number 3 tram or through sleet. Built with the taxpayers’ money, the library is fully public and open to everyone. We want to give the owners, that is, the taxpayers, a sense of pride that Oodi belongs to them,” Grönholm muses.
The interview of the architects is the first part of a three-part series of articles on Oodi.
The next article takes a peek at the building from the builder’s point of view.
Helsinki Central Library Oodi
The Helsinki Central Library, Oodi, will open to the public in December 2018. Construction began in 2015.
The architecture was designed by the architect firm ALA.
The building is built by YIT.
The Helsinki Central Library is represented at the architecture biennial of Venice until the end of November 2018.
Take a look at the Oodi website here.
Pictures from Oodi’s site
For further information, please contact:
Hanna Malmivaara, Vice President, Communications, YIT Corporation, tel.: +358 (0)40 561 6568, firstname.lastname@example.org
YIT is the largest Finnish and significant North European construction company. We develop and build apartments, business premises and entire areas. We are also specialised in demanding infrastructure construction and paving. Together with our customers our 10,000 professionals are creating more functional, more attractive and more sustainable cities and environments. We work in 11 countries: Finland, Russia, Scandinavia, the Baltic States, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland. The new YIT was born when over 100-year-old YIT Corporation and Lemminkäinen Corporation merged on February 1, 2018. Our pro forma revenue for 2017 was over EUR 3.8 billion. YIT Corporation's share is listed on Nasdaq Helsinki Oy. www.yitgroup.com