Helsinki Central Library

Status: Idea 2012
Location: Helsinki, Finland
Client: Municipality of Helsinki

Alvar Aalto’s 1961 town plan for the Töölönlahti area is still visible in the proposal for the area’s new developement. By applying his axes to the current town plan, the area can be perceived as four quadrants with distinct characteristics. The first cultural zone contains the Kiasma, the Musiikalto and Finlandia Hall. Two central nature areas contain contrasting greenery and wetlands.

The final zone is a new commercial development. The site for the new Helsinki Central library lies at at the junction between nature and commercial development, and this particular scheme aims to establish a lively and sustainable connection from the city to the park while re-establishing the library as a critical public node.

The position of the site is on the border between city and park. The proposal aims to not passively observe this collision but to instead become an active mediator between the two, where the city and park can help activate eachother. By taking cues from a larger context, the library’s geometry is able to translate the gradual shift between urban and natural environment.

Part of the building shifts orientation from the established commercial developemental boundary to correspond to the parliament building, thus becoming a participant in both competing grid systems and linking to the historical as well as contemporary built context.

The shift in geometry at the intersection between nature and urban settings is also manifest programatically. Libraries have traditially been centers of knowlege and book storage, however advances in technology have made it Library’s important venues to access new media sources and technology.

In this scheme, traditional library functions and book collections are oriented towards the park, where winter gardens and courtyards provide a calm setting for exploration. The new dynamic media forms activate plazas nearer the city center, and broadcast information towards the transit centers and parliament.

The central atrium of the library is a significant point within the developing the urban area. It facilitates the merging of new and traditional media, physically links the new development to the existing nature and historical urban structure, and also serves as the direct link between the bustle of Helsinki city center and the more peaceful environment of the park. The solar orientation of the linear atrium is inviting for patrons, and creates an atmosphere fitting the important social nature of a central city library.

The differences in spatial requirements between new and old media have become a generator for the interior typologies. Largely requiring full enclosure, new media adopts a hanging box typology towards the city. Traditional library functions employ an open plan, with hanging winter gardens creating a spacious counterpoint to the solid volumes of the new media.


Spaces within the library are distributed according to their privacy levels. The more public maintain a connection to the city in the south of the building while private reading rooms and quiet areas associate themselves with the park to the north.

The façade of the library is to act as a direct broadcast of happenings within the library. Much like a website, the library facade will inform, advertise and broadcast events and activities taking place within the library, even in real time.

A glass facade would allow for visibility into a building to display some functions, however with an integrated media facade, this connection between the interior and the exterior becomes much more pervasive, in that the facade does not merely allow for observation but actively communicates the functions of the library.

As the library places great emphasis on the direct exchange of ideas, the users of the library will be generating a large amount of content. Whether this is in the form of self publishing, group meetings or societies working in specific fields, the facade will have the capability to publish content of these events to the immediate urban context.

From the small hills and the plaza outside the library, there is the opportunity for the content promoted by and occuring within the building to reach a wider audience, even at a distance. The axis between the parliament and this center of knowledge also contributes to the concept of the ‘citizens’ square’ outside of the government building which has been an important aspect of Finnish political activism.

The plaza between the media facade and the to provide a space for spectators of events taking place in the facade of the library. It is to maintain a connection between the new library and the parliament. The area in front of the parliament has historically been important as the ‘citizen’s square’.

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