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    Picture: Tuomas Uusheimo

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Design marks new library era

Jez Abbott
08 Jan 2019

Newly opened library building marks a new era for Finland, currently billed as the world’s most literate nation.

The flagship library, Oodi, embraces technology to provide a variety of services alongside its lending collection of books to the people of Helsinki, Finland. Its recent opening marked Finland's 101st anniversary as an independent country. The 17,250 sq m library was designed by Finnish architecture firm ALA Architects, led by Juho Grönholm, Antti Nousjoki and Samuli Woolston. Oodi Central Library stands opposite the Finnish parliament, a site chosen to symbolise the relationship between the government and the populace. Finland was ranked the world’s most literate nation in a recent study. The €98m Oodi project will become the flagship of Finland’s internationally renowned network of public libraries.

The design was chosen following an anonymous international competition that attracted 544 entries. A swooping structure clad in planks of Finnish spruce seeks to extend the public space of the civic square into the enclosed public space of the library. A covered canopy blurs the boundary between the two and a balcony allows visitors to look across the square to the national parliament building.

Only one third of the space within the library is used to hold books - a modest 100,000 volumes. But thanks to online services and book-sorting robots, users can access nearly 3.4 million items at the click of a mouse. The shift in priorities away from storage freed up designers to reconsider the role of the library. By entering into an extensive programme of workshops and consultation with library users, they chose instead to explore more inclusive ways of creating access.

The resulting library is an indoor extension of public space, a civic “living room” that offers facilities such as a movie theatre, recording studios and a maker space, access to public services, exhibitions and community events in addition to books.

Antti Nousjoki, one of the three partners at ALA Architects, said: “Oodi is a large public forum of thought and action operating under the library organization, but with a range of reach and functionality well beyond a traditional book depository. It is an enabler of full versed public life, thought, production and sharing in the heart of the growing Helsinki.”

Jan Vapaavuori, mayor of Helsinki said library services were “an investment in people”, while Nasima Razmyar, deputy mayor, said Oodi was the figurehead of a public library. Anna-Maria Soininvaara, head librarian, added that Oodi was a project born out of a long and detailed process of asking what a library could and should be.

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