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Architecture Monday

August 26, 2019

And like that I’m back from a vacation to the Nordic countries that was, as my vacations often are, heavily aimed towards architectural visiting.  So many buildings!  And plenty to share in the coming weeks.  Hard to know where to begin, and so with no reason other than it jumped into my head let’s start with the new Helsinki Central Library.

There’s lots to love here.  Sinuous and sensual, the curving wood exterior forms an inviting covered entry, while the iceberg-like glass box that rests on top hints at the reading room to come.  The curving wood continues to play around once inside on the ground floor, carving out spaces for the café and several gathering spaces.

Moving up one floor on the central staircase leads you to this amazing project area, with raked seating for work on your laptop and access to a maker space with sewing machines, 3D printers, video editing computers, cutting mats, power tools, and all sorts of other goodies, all nestled among wood-covered diagonal bracing.  (I took a 360~ photo from the start of the project/maker space, you can view it here)

The top floor is where the books live, and yeah, it’s quite something.  With the ceiling floating overhead like an undulating cloud the rows of books (and trees!) extend in both directions towards each end of the building.  There, the floors rise up like a landmass, housing a reading room at one end and the children’s area in the other.  Should all the glass makes you feel like going outside, you can, onto a large balcony that overlooks the city.

A wonderful new library and community hub, purposefully set opposite the Finnish parliament building to emphasize the relationship between governance and active learning, freedom of expression, and citizenship.  And beyond books the library seizes new roles with the maker spaces, classrooms, theatres, and more.  Great stuff.

Oodi Helsinki Central Library by ALA Architects

4 comments

  1. […] an additional note, this library is doing it right… with a whole shelf dedicated to games (including […]


  2. This is beautiful, inviting, and has a sort of warm darkness, despite (or perhaps because of) the use of lighting and light colors.

    Maybe this is because it seems to accept the cloudy dimness outside and be a part of it, perhaps through all those beautiful windows? I can’t quite put my finger on it.

    I love the way space seems used here, with all the angles and slopes inhabiting it. It makes the building seem more alive, welcoming, and human.

    Why do you think we see so little of this, and so many buildings-as-boxes?

    (Also, these are gorgeous pictures. Thanks for putting them up!)


    • I think you’re on to something there! My sense is that Helsinki is often cloudy, and the undulating and relatively low ceiling works to merge with the conditions outside and provide a suffuse and intimate light throughout.

      There are, encouragingly, a growing number of nice libraries and etc that are being built, even in smaller communities. But overall in North America the value of good design is not valued (mainly, I would assert, because many are not aware of the impact our buildings can have on our experience and quality of life) while profit is, and so quick and boxy unfortunately often wins the day…


      • Ah, makes sense, if it’s not well understood, especially if it’s not well understood by the people funding the projects. Thanks!



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