Oodi Helsinki: the library is open

The brand new Helsinki Central Library opens this week, just in time for Independence Day.

File picture of books on shelf at Oodi Central Library Helsinki / Credit: News Now Finland

They say that reading is fundamental, and with a third of Oodi‘s space dedicated to books, there’s something here for every bibliophile.

From the outside, the new Central Library in Helsinki looks like a wave crashing down on the shores of Töölönlahti. Clad in spruce, the sleek curves offer a welcome respite from the concrete, stone, metal and glass of the neighbouring buildings.

“Oodi will bring a very new perspective for the city centre” says Deputy Mayor Nasima Razmyar (SDP), whose portfolio covers culture and leisure.

There’s a hope that Oodi continues the renewal of this part of the city which has seen the addition of new outdoor space, offices, restaurants, housing and more greenery over the last five year.

“To be honest we have a lot of space which is very open to everyone, but at the same time people are not going. They should go more to Music House, they should go more to opera, I admit they should go more to Kiasma. But the library is a very grassroots level service for Finnish people and everybody feels themselves very welcome to the library” she tells News Now Finland.

File picture on 3rd floor of Oodi Central Library, Helsinki / Credit: News Now Finland

Designing a 21st century library

Designed by Finnish architects ALA, Oodi is meant to be a welcoming and open place for the city’s residents spanning three floors.

The ground floor features a cafe and different performance or exhibition spaces. A cinema opens in January.

On the second floor, where services will open incrementally over the next few weeks, is a ‘maker space’ with workshops, studio space, computers, sound-proof booths and high-tech toys as well as plenty of charging points and broad steps which invite library users to sit and work informally.

The top floor – dubbed ‘book heaven’ is where you’ll find the actual library books as well as an outdoor ‘Citizens’ Terrace’ to take in the views at the heart of Helsinki.

It’s on the same level as parliament, a few hundred metres directly in front of Oodi. The symbolism of putting literature on a par with democracy is hard to miss.

“I think it brings a new concept of how we see the libraries, and i think this is very important” says Razmyar.

“Of course it is very different but at the same time it’s a way to renew ourselves, and renew the library. It’s a library for today but also for the future” she says.

Interior view, 3rd floor of Oodi Central Library from mezzanine / Credit: News Now Finland

Exploring book heaven

If it wasn’t for rows of books, the third floor of Oodi might be mistaken for a skate park, with wooden terraces and long sloping floors. The curved window along one side lets in maximum, ever-changing light. There’s places to sit and read, a coffee shop, hidden nooks, and a stage with a living room feel for readings or performances.

Climb higher up to the gallery mezzanine, and take in the view down the length of the building, with a large section reserved for children’s books and activities.

But here too there’s more than just books on offer: library users can rent movies on blu ray and DVD, board games, console computer games and sheet music too.

“Libraries are extremely important for Finnish people, for the whole nation, for the city and at the moment we have a lot of local libraries and our big love is our local libraries. Oodi will be another great thing among our libraries” says Nasima Razmyar.

Spiral ‘dictionary’ staircase at Oodi Central Library / Credit: News Now Finland

Throughout the structure there’s unexpected design elements. From a spiral ‘dictionary’ staircase  connecting the ground floor to the 3rd floor; to arching beams on the second floor that create hidden spaces and unconventional spots to hang out and work or read.

It’s clear that when Oodi is full of people, it becomes one large community centre whether you’re there to borrow a book or not.

“It’s not only a building. It’s a building with a heartbeat. And I think we have now a heartbeat in the city centre of Helsinki. And that’s quite something” says Razmyar.

Librarian stacks books on shelf at Oodi Central Library / Credit: News Now Finland