More than just a place to check out books, Helsinki’s Oodi Library is a symbol of national pride in a country that boasts one of the highest literacy rates in the world. Designed by celebrated Finnish architecture firm ALA, the library stands prominently in the center of Helsinki. By facing the Finnish parliament building, Oodi is a constant reminder of what the country has accomplished. As a gathering place for the entire community, the library acts as a bridge between education and the general population.
Since the 1920s, libraries have had an important place in Finnish culture and today nearly half the population uses a public library at least once a month. This is owed to the revolutionary Finnish Library Act, which helps actively promote lifelong learning and gives libraries a fundamental role in society. The sprawling 17,250-square-meter (185,677-square-foot) Oodi, which opened in 2018, was designed to help usher in a new age of Finnish libraries and push the boundaries of their mission.
To that end, books only fill one-third of the massive building. Packed with innovations, the civic library includes a recording studio, makers space, movie theater, restaurant, café, and public balcony. In this way, the library becomes a well-rounded cultural hub that reaches far beyond simply borrowing a book.
The architects divided the building into clearly defined levels, with the ground floor acting as a public space that is an extension of the exterior. The upper floor is known as book heaven and includes a peaceful open-space reading room. Here visitors will find a tranquil place to nestle up with their favorite piece of literature. In between the upper and lower floors, spaces for additional services are accommodated across what the architects refer to as an “inhabited bridge” formed from steel that spans over 100 meters. This makes for a stunning effect, as the design does not require columns and thus provides striking views across the length of the space.
Built using local materials, the facade is clad with Finnish spruce and curves in a manner that provides shelter when public events occur in front of the library. The stunning, modernist look of the building is both an homage to Finland’s past and a look to the future of what libraries can—and should—be. And in taking on this challenge, the library asks its citizens to rise up and continue to move forward with the neverending quest for education. As Finland’s executive director for culture and leisure Tommi Laitio recently said, “You can be your best person inside this building.”