Helsinki Central Library Oodi
Last year Finland celebrated the centenary year of Independence. The big year was highlighted by the opening of Oodi Central Library of Helsinki. This event is very special in civic life of Finland. А milestone anniversary is always an occasion to reconsider, make insights and strengthen national values. Literature and education have always been the mainstay of Finnish society. Oodi represents these values, not only as a library, it embodies a deeper multifaceted concept of creative expression and symbolizes the country’s identity.
A civilised citizenry
A civilised citizenry has been the fundamental principl e of finnish libraries since the 19the century. It is primarily a democratic principle of equal right and access for all to knowledge, education, generation of social and intellectual capital. Passion for learning in Finland is raised from the early childhood, as many finns get their library card long before they even start school. And not surprisingly, in 2016 Finland was recognized by the United Nations as the most literate country in the world. There are 738 libraries across the country in total, 37 of which are located in Helsinki. In the modern times libraries in Finland provide far more opportunities than mere book borrowing services serving as space for socializing, interaction and recreational activities. And still in the abundant system of traditional libraries and media hubs there was something to dream up and invent. People dreamt of the library of the future. The location for the new library marks the significance of its role as a social and public institution. Oodi stand opposite to the Parliament House underlining the affinity between politics and public interests, and is surrounded my major art and cultural venues, such as Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art and Musiikktalo Concert Hall.
The first seed of the dream emerged in the end of 1980, however the first project plan discussions started only in 2000. Each resident of Finland could contribute to functioning concepts of the library. People were encouraged to participate in the public planning discussion, propose ideas and envision their dreams. The Dream Campaign collected approximately 2300 ideas. The name Oodi was chosen through the public vote among 2600 proposals. Panels of customers and development communities had their say in selection of architectural design, developing of content and services of the library and even in the choice and testing of furniture. The inclusion of people in implementation of the project and their strong support reflect the deep sense of “Togetherness” – the main theme of Finland’s centenary of Independence. Besides its core functions the library implemented the idea of coownership and sharing of the national values. Dedication to diversity and unity of people is expressed in the word-based artwork by Otto Karvonen on the walls of the library’s staircase. The artwork is composed of 341 adjectives and nouns, describing different population groups and their characters.
The architectural design was chosen in the open international completion among 544 entries. The winning design named “Käännös” (turning) was proposed ALA Architects of Helsinki. Their concept features the key division into three distinct levels with individual atmospheres for socializing, creativity and learning. With outer cladding made of finnish spruce and glass-walled upper deck the building resembles a huge ship. The architectural solution was influenced by spatial restrictions. The engineers were given a long and narrow plot of land for construction and were also limited in use of the underground space as it was reserved for building a tunnel. The challenges were successfully solved by utilizing a bridge-like structure, resting on two steel arches. The span of the bridge is approximately 100m. It creates an open column-free space at the ground floor. The arches are supported by beams which are used as design elements of the middle floor, named the “Attic”. The glass curved facade walls at the top of the building hold the roof and allow open column-free space, creating a magnificent 360 degree panorama of Helsinki. The top floor is filled with daylight and the-spay-printed mist on the glass walls protect visitors from the bright sunlight. Canopy above the square extends the functional space for open-air events and provides an exterior terrace on the top floor.
Free platform for people
The idea of the new library was not to stock it with the largest collection of books and magazines. The library in Pasila operates as the main library of Helsinki and holds the sufficient repository of books . It is unlikely that the government and city council would allocate €98 million just for books. In Oodi storage and staff facilities were minimized to 5% of the total space and the collection amount to 100,000 items of books and magazines, however more books can be ordered via on-line lending system. The librarians are aided by robots, which collect the returned books and carry them to their cases. Thanks to automation the library is operated with only 54 full-time workers. The library section itself is located in a peaceful open-plan reading room on the upper floor. Bookshelves stand in the middle of the room and the corners of the floor are elevated, so that the all-around view of the city could be observed. The two other floors of the library are utilized with a different focus. Oodi reconciles totally contradictory demands of people for the library of future with serene peaceful atmosphere on the one hand and huge amount of activities for all age groups, concerts and events – on the other hand. The ground floor serves as an event platform with a mini-theater for organizing open and closed performances, thanks to the moving wall along the perimeter. Next are cinema, restaurant area and early education department, where children and their parents can spend time and play games together under guidance of professional teachers. The floor-plan offers unlimited opportunities for interplay to fit any kind of indoor and outdoor event. The next level is Maker’s space with urban workspace, workshops with 3D printers, laser cutters, vinyl cutters, sewing machines, comfortable meeting rooms, a conference hall and even a kitchen. One of the special things are music studios which will open in spring, where one can borrow instruments, music sheets, practice, learn DJing and VJing, make CDs or record video and perform them to public on the stage downstairs and become a star. All you need for this is a library card. Although some of the facilities (like 3d printing, sewing machines, workspaces) can be found in other libraries, Oodi stands out, because of the unique integration and combination of versatile resources under one roof in the city centre. The library of the future is the synergy cultural experiences made available for all people. The synergy in Oodi can be achieved thought collaboration with other cultural institutions. One example is the exchange program with Music Hall, which allows visitors of the library to watch streaming concerts and be involved in discussions about music organized by the Music Hall in the library.