On the Horizon: Helsinki Central Library

ALA Architects will add a dramatic and curvaceous presence to the heart of the city with the Helsinki Central Library.

06.01.2014 by Adam Moore

The range of architectural expression found in Helsinki, Finland is an enduring testament to the country’s love of design. From the neoclassical Finnish Parliament building to Alvar Aalto’s Finlandia Hall to Steven Holl’s Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, the city is filled with bold, unique structures—and the upcoming Helsinki Central Library promises to be no different.

Selected from a two-stage international design competition that attracted more than 500 entries from around the world, the winning design by ALA Architects will add a dramatic and curvaceous presence to the heart of the city.

Described by competition judges as “impressive and casually generous,” the 172,000-square-foot building consists almost entirely of public spaces, and will offer a range of experiential environments to patrons and visitors.

The design cleverly divides the functions of the library into three distinctive levels: an active ground floor, complete with a multipurpose hall, restaurant, and cinema; a “quiet” upper floor with unobstructed views of the surrounding cityscape; and an enclosed middle floor containing opportunities for “learning by doing,” including high-tech labs for music and multimedia production (not to mention a public sauna).

Softly curved, organic shapes will abound in all areas of the building, including a curved ceiling covering the ground floor, flowing spaces in the middle level, as well as curving floor surfaces on the top floor. A spiraling double-helix staircase will connect the main lobby with the top level.

The library will be constructed using local materials and with local climate conditions in mind. Some of the main load-bearing components will be made of timber, and the curvaceous wooden façade will be built from pre-assembled elements finished on site. Thirty-millimeter thick local Siberian Larch wood, shaped through a parametric 3-D manufacturing process, will also be used for cladding.

The new central library is the celebratory project of the 100th anniversary of the independence of Finland. Its construction will start in 2015 and is estimated for completion by 2018.