In contrast to the other buildings in the Töölönlahti District of Helsinki, an essential component of the design by PAR and Arup for the Central Library involved creating a public space at the top of the library—visually connecting Töölönlahti to Senate Square and the city at large. The library is organized by six intersecting axes that afford spectacular vistas while creating a variety of spatial configurations for the library’s program. With it’s six floor levels each pointing toward a celebrated landmark, the Central Library becomes a symbolic center for city. More images and architects’ description after the break.
A series of programmatic strips are stacked to create a narrow building that is optimal for the Helsinki climate and library program. The strips feature 11.5 m deep plates that allow for flexibility in collections layout and maximize available natural light, creating an ideal reading environment crucial for the library. A superimpostion of the strips is extruded up to maximum height generating a prismatic volume that contains a public void at the ground level. Along the plaza is a multi-height atrium which opens up to the park and pedestrian pathway draws people into the library. The landscape block is at the same time integrated and outstanding, traditional and contemporary. It creates a stage-like space for the annual gathering of the National Day of Finland.
The new Helsinki Central Library conception has been led by the requirements of the zero carbon building objective. At the earliest stage of design, environmental analysis via simulation tools enabled design decisions that optimized the sustainable performance of the building form and envelope. In approaching the design for the new Helsinki Central Library, we found great inspiration in Helsinki’s expansive skyline, the urban development of the Töölönlahti district and the rich Finnish heritage of societal openness. We feel the form of the new library emerges where these stories overlap. As an addition to the other buildings in the district, an essential component of the design involved creating a robust public space at the top of the library—visually connecting Töölönlahti to Senate Square and the city at large.
The building site is wedged into a dense context between the emblematic architectures of Alvar Aalto’s Finlandia Hall and Steven Holl’s Kiasma Museum. The site links Linnuniauluntie Street to Makasinii Park on axis with the Finnish Parliament House. Interacting with its surroundings, the library opens up to the park, pedestrian pathway and Linnuniauluntie Street. Towards the park, the envelope recesses from the lower level up to the second, creating a light well for the cinema lobby below ground and a grand canopy at main library entrance above. Along the east, the envelope is pulled up slightly, providing shelter for the street-side cafe and secondary entrances for the children’s library and 24 hour reservations desk.
The shape of the building is substantially influenced by the angle of incidence of the local profile. The volumetry along the west orients surfaces to capture daylight and as a result, affords views of the sky and spectacular, theatrical vistas across the city to the Baltic Sea and Töölönlahti Bay. Calling back to Alvar Aalto’s master plan, the northwest corner of the library fans out toward Finlandia Hall and the Olympic Stadium. Depending on where the viewer is standing, the body of the building will look like a crystal or like an archaic form extruded from the landscape. The ambivalent, oscillating character of the building’s identity is heightened by the sculptural effect of it’s concave surface structure. An Observatory tucked within the roof peak above the restaurant terminates the promenade of escalators and staircases that dynamically rise through the building. The Observatory offers a 360 degree view of Helsinki, with vistas to the Senate Square Dome, St Johns Cathedral and Kippan Island.
The program of the library is flexible, subject to ever changing ways of accessing and sharing knowledge in a realm that is becoming more and more and immaterial. The long span truss system provides a flexible, column free plan suitable to the demands of a 21st Century, world class library. The flexible interior makes it open to respond to the exterior forces of the city and guarantees it’s viability as a building adaptable to future alternatives. Shelving is proposed as freestanding elements that float within the floors. A variety of shelving typologies and configurations coordinate with the open plan zones.
The new Helsinki Central Library conception has been led by the requirements of the zero carbon building objective. At the earliest stage of design, environmental analysis via simulation tools enabled design decisions that optimized the sustainable performance of the building form and envelope. Strategies such as site integration, natural light autonomy, high thermal performance facade, microturbine cogeneration, recycled materials and natural summer ventilation ensure the future Central Library will be a sustainable building. By harnessing sources of natural heat, daylight, maximizing ventilation, and recycling snow and rainwater, the building can meet a zero carbon objective.
The broad, undulating shape of the roof rises to a total height of 31.8 m at the tip of the Northern peak, sloping down to the northwestern end, where the roof is 22 m lower. The inner void is the spatial imprint of the urban volume. Its sloping walls expand and contract the void in different directions, providing several surfaces for the light to bounce on its way from the sky to the space below. The different angles provide visitors and patrons with varying perspectives of each other as well as the city beyond and the sky above.
The main entrance to the new Central Library lies to the southwest adjacent to the plaza and drop off zone. Lifting slightly as it leads from the plaza, a folded ground plane leads from the outside in transforming itself into a public living room, drawing people into the library. The continuous spiral of circulation is expressed clearly as a continuation of the plates twisting between floors. It is a spatial experience in itself, transporting visitors through the entire library, passing large panoramic windows, transferring the spirit of grand sweeping staircases into the library experience. Upon reaching the top of the library, visitors step onto a plaza high above Töölönlahti. Perched on top of the library is a new public space that combines civic programs with wind protected outdoor Terraces that visitors can enjoy around the year.
Location: Helsinki, Finland
Environmental: Arup, Russell Fortmeyer, Senior Consultant
Partner in Charge: Jennifer Marmon
Project Architect: Matthew Young
Team: Ross Ferrari, Allison Klute, Cory Ringo, Seyoung Choi, Ryan Fagre, Tom Ames, Reza Hadian, Garrett Runck, Aliya Popita, Yen Vo, Cici Luong, Ji Hao
Client: City of Helsinki
Size: 14,000 M2
Status: 2012, Competition