A library as an inhabited bridge

Oodi occupies a hugely significant site in central Helsinki: facing the steps of the Finnish parliament building, the Eduskuntatalo across the Kansalaistori square, a public space flanked by major civic institutions.

The siting of Oodi opposite the Eduskuntatalo was chosen to be symbolic of the relationship between the government and the populace, and act as a reminder of the Finnish Library Act’s mandate for libraries to promote lifelong learning, active citizenship, democracy and freedom of expression. It also places the new library in the heart of Helsinki’s cultural district, close to many of the capital’s great institutions.

Oodi has a peaceful open-plan reading room on the upper floor that has been nicknamed “book heaven”, but books only fill one third of the space within the library. By reducing on-site storage and consulting library-users on how they access culture, ALA Architects and the librarians of Oodi have been able to introduce facilities including a café, restaurant, public balcony, movie theatre, audio-visual recording studios and a makerspace. This is representative of broader experimentation within Finnish libraries to offer new services in addition to loaning books.

The design divides the functions of the library into three distinct levels: an active ground floor that extends the town square into an interior space; “book heaven” on the upper level; and an enclosed in-between volume containing rooms to accommodate additional services and facilities within the library. This spatial concept has been realised by building the library as an inhabited bridge, with two massive steel arches that span over 100 meters to create a fully enclosed, column-free public entrance space, clusters of rooms grouped around the structure, and the open-plan reading room carried above.

Oodi has been built using local materials and with local climate conditions in mind. The timber façade is clad with 33-millimeter-thick Finnish spruce planks that conform to the sweeping curve that extends the building outwards to create a canopy above the Kansalaistori square, blending the interior and exterior spaces and creating shelter for public events in front of the library.

The upper surface of the canopy structure has been used to create a large public terrace, from which Helsinki citizens can look directly over the square to the steps and main entrance of the Finnish parliament. The terrace doubles the amount of public outdoor space provided for library visitors and creates a new destination where people can meet and observe the city below.

The ground floor of Oodi extends the Kansalaistori square into an interior public space. The purpose of the ground floor is to make each of the facilities of the library apparent and accessible and provide a non-commercial interior space open to all, every day of the week. Kino Regina, the National Audiovisual Institute’s movie theatre will occupy a space on the ground floor, together with a cafe restaurant with seating that will spill out onto the square in the summer months.

The middle floor, known as the “Attic”, consists of flexible rooms arranged around the intimate nooks and corners that inhabit the spaces between the trusses of the bridge structure. The multi-function rooms are designed to accommodate both noisy and quiet activities and it is on this floor that Oodi will offer facilities such as its makerspace and recording studios.

“Book Heaven” on the top floor, is a vast open landscape topped with an undulating cloud-like white ceiling punctured by circular rooflights. Here the best characteristics of the modernist library meet the possibilities provided by 21st Century technologies. The 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, or step out onto the terrace overlooking Kansalaistori square.

Design and info © ALA Architects

Images © Tuomas Uusheimo

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