Curvaceous Helsinki central library engages with city

Books are flat and straight-lined, right? Well this Helsinki library provides a more curvaceous response. 

Designed by ALA Architects

From the architects:

Oodi  – Helsinki's central library – represents a new era of libraries. 

The newly completed building in the heart of Helsinki consists almost entirely of public space and offers a wide selection of services. 

It will become the new central point for the city’s impressive public library network.

The design divides the functions of the library into three distinct levels: an active ground floor, a peaceful upper floor, and an enclosed in-between volume containing the more specific functions. 

This concept has been developed into an arching form that invites people to utilise the spaces and services underneath, inside and on top of it. 

The resulting building is an inspiring and highly functional addition to the urban life of Helsinki and the Töölönlahti area.

The artistic Helsinki library is a giant magnet architecture, building, city, commercial building, corporate headquarters, facade, headquarters, metropolitan area, mixed-use, sky, teal
The artistic Helsinki library is a giant magnet for the literary-minded of Helsinki. Photography: Tuomas Uusheimo

The Kansalaistori square (“Citizens’ Square”) across the street from the Parliament House seamlessly continues inside the ground floor level of the library building. 

The flexible spaces are suitable for both small events and large happenings. 

The movie theatre and multipurpose hall can be used as part of the open lobby space or separated off to cater for specific events. 

Walking through the ground floor offers a quick glimpse at the services available in the building. 

The sculptural wooden surface arches over the ground floor areas as a dramatic bridge-like structure. 

This innovative structural solution has enabled the creation of a column-free public space to maximise the accessibility and visibility of the program.

The innovative Helsinki library's structural design enables the architecture, building, ceiling, chair, design, floor, flooring, furniture, house, interior design, lobby, office, real estate, room, table, gray
The innovative Helsinki library's structural design enables the creation of a column-free public space to maximise the accessibility and visibility of the program.

The “Book Heaven” on the top floor, is a vast open landscape topped with an undulating cloud-like white ceiling. 

Here the best features of the modernist library meet the possibilities provided by up-to-date technologies. 

A calm, serene atmosphere invites visitors to read, learn, think, and to enjoy themselves. 

From this level visitors can enjoy an unobstructed 360-degree panorama view of the city centre.

The middle floor, the “Attic”, consists of flexible irregularly shaped rooms, nooks and corners inhabiting the spaces between the trusses of the bridge structure. 

The enclosed spaces are designed to accommodate both noisy and quiet activities. 

The stepped seating in the open central area of this floor is the result of the form of the cantilevering, twisting west façade.

For the Helsinki library, the complex curved geometry architecture, automotive design, font, material property, stairs, black, gray
For the Helsinki library, the complex curved geometry was designed and manufactured using algorithm-aided parametric 3D design methods in order to achieve the required precision. Photography: Tuomas Uusheimo

By opening directly to the surrounding cityscape and by dissolving the border between indoor and outdoor areas, the building engages directly with the Töölönlahti area. 

The large foyer and the glass-walled multi-purpose hall on ground level act as indoor extensions of the outdoor spaces.

The arching wooden volume creates an entrance canopy over the Kansalaistori square forming a covered outdoor space that expands the building’s functions such as the ground level restaurant to the square. 

The large public terrace on top of the canopy doubles the amount of public outdoor space available for library visitors and creates a new destination where people can meet and observe the city below.

The spaces for maintenance and library logistics are located at basement level. The administration and storage spaces are kept to the minimum on the publicly accessed levels to maximise the open and accessible nature of the library.

The library building is extremely energy efficient, with architecture, building, ceiling, daylighting, design, floor, flooring, furniture, home, house, interior design, living room, real estate, roof, room, shade, table, gray
The library building is extremely energy efficient, with an energy consumption level of a nearly Zero Energy Building (nZEB).  Photography: Tuomas Uusheimo

Oodi’s spatial concept based on three individual public floors is executed by building the library as an inhabited, asymmetrical bridge spanning over 100 metres over the open ground floor space. 

The bridge structure consisting of steel trusses and beams supported by two massive steel arches, tensioned together with a reinforced concrete tension slab. 

The innovative structural solution has enabled both the construction of the flexible column-free interior spaces and the possibility for the construction of a future road tunnel under the site. 

Secondary steel trusses support the cantilevered balcony and roof canopy asymmetrically from the arch structure, forming a unique structure to accommodate both permanent and temporary functions for both the library and the public realm.

Hiding round the corner is less of an architecture, automotive design, building, ceiling, design, flooring, interior design, lobby, orange
Hiding round the corner is less of an option given the new Helsinki library's pillar free interiors. Photography: Tuomas Uusheimo

Oodi has been built using local materials and with local climate conditions in mind.

The wooden façade is made from pre-fabricated elements. 33mm-thick Finnish high-quality spruce has been used for the cladding. 

A specific grading and quality control system was developed for the timber, the sawing and the treatment of the slats. 

The complex curved geometry was designed and manufactured using algorithm-aided parametric 3D design methods in order to achieve the required precision. 

The appearance of the façade will develop over the years towards a deeper, richer version of its initial hue.

The design of the building envelope is intrinsic to the passive energy approach adopted by the project team. 

Detailed analysis of the façade performance has informed the environmental solutions and has allowed the team to minimise the requirement for mechanical environmental control systems, which facilitates the highly flexible architectural solution. 

The glass facades allow for large amounts of functional daylight in the public areas, reducing the use of artificial light and enhancing the quality of the interior spaces as a multifunctional citizen’s forum.

The carefully planned placement and optimisation of building services has enabled the flexibility of the spatial arrangements. 

All public levels of the building are equipped with access floors to allow for changes in use during the estimated 150-year life span of the building.

The library building will be extremely energy efficient. Its energy consumption level is that of a nearly Zero Energy Building (nZEB). 

This is mostly due to the efficiency of the building services. The material efficiency of the building has benefited among other things from the use of wood in the exterior cladding.

Building information modeling was used in both architectural and engineering design, as well as in checking the compatibility of the designs. Building information model will also be utilised for maintenance.

Take me away - the atmospheric reading room architecture, ceiling, design, interior design, orange, stairs, black
Take me away - the atmospheric reading room at Helsinki library could itself be the inside of Cinderella's post-midnight coach. Photography: Tuomas Uusheimo

Credit list

ALA Architects
VIZarch and StoltModels
Main contractor
Project management
Ramboll CM
Theatre technology
Geo planning
Finnmap Infra & Sipti Infra
BIM coordinator)
Traffic planning
Pöyry Finland
Energy technical specialist, mechanical engineering, structural engineering and facade engineering
Scale models
Klaus Stolt
Contractor for excavation work and basement construction
EM Pekkinen
Structural engineering, HVAC, energy technology
Ramboll Finland
Electrical engineering and AV consulting
Acoustical engineering
Helimaki Acoustics
Fire safety
Palotekninen insinööritoimisto Markku Kauriala
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Story by: Trendsideas

Photography by: Tuomas Uusheimo

13 Aug, 2019

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