Architecture Monday

September 9, 2019

Let us step backwards in time tonight and enter the National Library of Finland.  Standing directly opposite the grand Helsinki Cathedral, it’s stateliness and position are a testament to the importance of knowledge and books to the Finnish people.

The main hall was built between 1840-1845, and, quite frankly, stately may well be an understatement.  Rife with classical details from floor to column to ceiling to dome, there is no doubt that this is a hallowed place for the books that encircle the room.  Every direction you look is a rich tapestry of colour, texture, and form.

The rotunda, built between 1902-1906, is more spare but no less impressive.  Reminding me a bit of the Library of Parliament in Ottawa, the radial rows of books climb balcony by balcony towards the large skylight overhead.  I love the difference between it and the main hall, showcasing the newer motifs of its day with highly artful and expressive cast iron  columns, railings, and details,  not to mention the skylight, reminiscent of the Crystal Palace from the Great Exhibition of 1851.

And to cap it off, the side/secondary reading rooms just keep that grandness going strong.

For the nation’s archives and repository of its cultural record, there is nothing sad about this building at all;  it is fitting and mighty fine.  Here are a couple of 360~ views!  One in the main hall, and one in the rotunda.

The National Library of Finland by C L Engel, Gustaf Nyström, and others.


  1. This truly is beautiful–and those shelves! With their upper portions curving out gracefully, mirroring the structural elements that come down to meet them.

    The whole place seems exceptionally clean, well-maintained, and brightly painted. Have you any idea whether or when it has been restored or renovated?

    Also, thank you for not forgetting staircases! For whatever reason, I’ve always liked a nice staircase. Maybe it’s architects and designers putting love and care into an area that is unused by many, and barely perceived by most who do.

    • I too love how those shelves embrace the structure above. It’s little (but not so little!) details like that that can make us shiver with delight. Just like the staircases — they can seem totally utilitarian, but we use them every day, multiple times per day, and well-crafted (and even playful) areas like that can make all the difference in our overall quality of life.

      I don’t know for sure if, beyond the addition of the round room in the back, it had any major renovations or restorations, but I imagine if not an overall one then at least it has been kept well maintained throughout. I got the sense that libraries (and bookstores too) are very well regarded and considered an important part of the social fabric, and with that reverence comes the care (and money) to keep it/them in top shape. :)

      • “…and well-crafted (and even playful) areas like that can make all the difference in our overall quality of life.”

        This. 100%.

    • The National Library was renovated pretty recently, in 2014–2016. There’s a video – in Finnish, but it gives you the idea about the challenges. The job was nominated “the construction site of the year”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dHp_ZW2vXZU

      • Wow, thank you for that link! It seems that it was in pretty rough shape… I’m so glad they did all the painstaking work to get it back to its full glory. And I’m not surprised it was nominated for the award — working on historical sites is always tricky, and that foundation/sub-floor work must have taken some serious planning and care. :) Great stuff, thank you!

      • Alright. Always looking for an excuse to sharpen my Finnish. Good find, thanks!

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