In the virtualized information era, Plan 01 believes the design for the Helsinki Central Library should be more than ever a “physical space”. The project should be a place for sensory experience, a place where culture becomes an opportunity to meet and exchange ideas, a place where the civil forum is recovered from the virtual and returned to the urban world. Their concept becomes a symbol in stone and wood that opens its heart to the city and offers visitors a retreat for body and mind. More images and architects’ description after the break.
Socrates “Let me show you in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened: Imagine men living in a type of cave, which has a entrance open towards the light which stretches all the way along the cave” (Plato : The Republic). The Myth of the Cave offers us a metaphor for the search for truth, a metaphor of a reality that in the present and the future is becoming increasingly abstract.
Socrates’s questioning is surprisingly modern in a time and space dedicated to the worship of virtualization. What should be a library be like in the realm of the Internet? What will happen to the book in the era of the electronic screen? Now, we must interpret the word book to mean all recorded text, image or sound media. Does this multimedia aspect imply that we may no longer actually move towards the book – but rather that the book may now come to us! Or that you are only a click way from the full catalogue of the US Library of Congress in Washington. This profound technological change is transforming both habits and spaces. The traditional rows of library shelves are giving up a little more space each day to the antiseptic atmosphere of the underground data center.
The library is no longer a space where people come to borrow or return a book but a place where people come to seek and interact with other people who love books. It is no longer the place where people go to find something to read, listen or watch, but a privileged place where people go to read, listen and watch in an environment that stimulates curiosity and intellect. Excavated as it is in a rocky outcrop in the city, a large illuminated agora provides protection from the elements. This scenic area, cool in summer, mild in winter, diffuses culture, light and heat throughout the city. This large open volume in the park is a place where people can meet, to read, see an exhibition or a show, or just have a coffee in a wooded atmosphere.
Around this belvedere above the city, different activities come alive. It has no main entrance but several access points interconnected by the agora – making the project into a permeable place which is open like a square which people move across. The simple geometry, which follows that of the plot, contains multiple functions in a rational distribution scheme organized by the façade along Töölönlahdenkatv street. A structural floor supports the building and hosts the technical installations. This floor can also host a future data center and enables the development of the project’s storage capacity to be anticipated. A vast roof terrace houses the sauna and restaurant and offers panoramic views of the city and the sea beyond.
A double glass façade reveals and protects the wooded agora creating an intimate relationship between park and library. Inside this “biosphere”, the volume can receive large-scale art installations such as this popular artificial sun that illuminates and warms the long winter nights. The full façades are covered with a mineral and translucent skin that filters the sun and reveals activity inside the building through a play of light and shadow.
Using these treatments “interactive” the project is an urban entertainment, a landmark in the city, by day and by night, in summer and winter. It is a symbol in stone and wood that opens its heart to the city and offers visitors a retreat for body and mind.