Home Sweet Book, helsinki central library

The third place library concept
In an era where people have become increasingly disconnected from family, friends and the traditional social structures such as churches, recreational clubs and political parties, libraries have the opportunity to become a community focal point, but also fundamentally a place of debate, a place of meeting, and a social space. The idea of the “third place library” comes from the citizen’s need for transformative place, a third place, that is not home and not work, but instead a neutral place to explore, imagine, think, learn, play, reflect, connect and become inspired. The library as a “third place” has never been more relevant and important to our physical and social health.

Bryson, Usherwood and Proctor describe the library as being “[…] at any one time a meeting place, a learning resource and a comfortable and relaxing public space. The buildings that are well designed and managed offer an array of resources that enable people and groups to establish relationship, carry on conversations, exchange ideas, and engage the life of the mind.” Catherine Harris. Libraries with lattes: the new third place, 2007.

Those characteristics have been the key elements and fundamental basis of our proposal for the Helsinki Central Library.

The heart of the metropolis
The designated location for the new Helsinki Central Library is implanted on a former industrial wasteland within an area on the edge of urban development. The project strongly positions itself at the center of a civic axis between the central railway station and the Finnish Parliament, a building to which it also gives notice. Crossing a series of important cultural buildings (Finlandia Hall, Helsinki Music Center and Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art) and juxtaposed to the Sanoma House, the construction of the library frames the Makasiini Park, marking the culmination of the transformation process in the urban fabric of the Töölönlahti area and complements the new civic and cultural heart of the metropolis.

Our vision of this new public infrastructure cannot ignore the context in which it occurs. The conceptual approach proposes a holistic view of the site, taking into account both the construction of the new Helsinki Central library and the Makasiini Park. As explained above, a strong visual link connects the highest political institution in the country, the Finnish Parliament, to its civic counterpart, the library. To emphasize this link and define the Makasiini Park’s new landscape, a large public space is created and inspired by one of the great symbol of Finland, the Silver Birch (Betula pendula). The plaza evokes the large scale patterns of birch bark, which will be visible from the Parliament, the library and many cultural buildings nearby. At ground-level, the black stripes are made of dark paving stones, linear benches or quotes from famous Finnish writers that have been engraved into the plaza surface.

As the Parliament House stands by itself on Arcadia Hill (a huge and dramatic outcrop) we propose to surround the plaza with two large artifacts rocks on which people can climb, explore and observe the Töölönlahti Bay. Various pathways ensure effective circulation and connections to Hesperian puisto to the North. The park design provides dense deciduous tree cover for summer shade and increased urban biodiversity and ecological connections. Wishing to preserve the new alternative cultural vocation of the old railway warehouse, an outdoor brick terrace is projected towards the new building and connects the park to the library’s numerous event spaces (exhibition hall, cinema, cafe, public sauna, restaurant and so on). Finally, the water canal on the western portion of the park could end as a cascade along the monumental stairs leading to future commercial facilities underground, multiplying light and animation opportunities for spaces belowground-level.

The architecture of the new library must juggle two different scales: the parkscape and the cityscape. Above all, the proposed building volume is the result of forces emanating from the place, the genius loci. At the southern part of the site, belonging to the institutional cityscape, that’s why here the building rises to reach the height of the Sanoma Building. To provide a commanding presence in front of its political counterpart (civic axis) the library tower has been rotated to orient itself perfectly parallel to the Parliament, matching the proportions of its imposing façade of 14 columns. Meanwhile the northern part of the library requires a more horizontal building that borders public space at the scale of the «third place», the parkscape and the citizen.

The helsinki central library: a guided tour
Coming to the new Helsinki Central Library, users have several choices. The library is thought to be open at all times, regardless of the event taking place therein. An internal street, accessible day and night, is distributing all the main functions of the building and is also open to the adjacent park. This weather protected space is the place where people can meet, wander or use as a shortcut. The two main lobbies of the library and the exhibition spaces are opened to that street, farther on the north side, the cafe is also widely accessible.

The main entrance to the building is set closed to the south west of the site on the “Birch Piazza” which is penetrating the library main lobby. From there visitors discover huge stairs and stadium steps that serve several functions: leading to the different floors, encouraging people to use the stairs instead of elevators and hosting the newspapers and magazines section, where users can read or meet other people. On this staircase some events can also be held, be it lectures, temporary exhibitions or presentations. On the second floor at the top of the first flight of stairs there is the bright naturally-lit meeting and lounge area, an information desk and access to the ”Living Lab”. A bit further, isolated from the rests of the library, but still connected to the main spaces is the Children’s World. Access to the third floor is provided by another auditorium-stair that can be related to the “Living Lab” activities. From that floor upwards you are in the “Library Tower” which enclosed the collection area, the quiet spaces and other more conventional functions. A birch wood staircase leads you to the top floor where you will find the teaching, group work, meeting spaces and a wind protected terrace lookout facing the west and the Finnish Parliament building.

Back down to the ground floor you can follow the interior street to the north, pass by the exhibition areas overlooking the street and find events and external services providers’ spaces, which are accessible through a lobby centered on another sculptural birch wood staircase. The multi-purpose hall is on the ground floor, from where people can walk upstairs to the cinema via a staircase offering views down on the internal street. The high ceiling of the cinema lobby permits the creation of a VIP mezzanine. On the next floor people can relax in the sauna, with a direct view to the park and enjoy the cooling baths on the intimate outdoor terrace. Right next to the sauna is the restaurant which offers a north-west view to the park but also a zenithal light and yearlong outside feel from the glass roof. The fully curtain-walled west façade of the library permits the catching of as much natural light as possible which can be amplified and forwarded inside by an arc-shaped vertical reflector system. Adjacent spaces are than illuminated by a U-shaped channel glass interior wall. The journey ends on the north side of the site, on the café and the “Warehouse Piazza” from where it’s possible to reach the Makasiini Park and the Töölönlahti Bay.

Informations :

Type : Institutionnel, Bibliothèque publique
Localisation : Helsinki, Finlande
Phase | année : Concours | 2012

Architectes : Patrick Morand architecte et Iglu studio
Chargés de projet : Patrick Morand et Fabien Lasserre
Collaboration : NIP paysage, Étienne Bertaud, William Cyr-Lamy et Laetitia Combebias.