ALA Architects wins Helsinki library competition

News: Finnish studio ALA Architects has won the international competition to design a new public library in Helsinki with plans that involve a mass of twisted timber (+ slideshow).

Helsinki Central Library by ALA Architects

Launched in January 2012, the competition asked applicants to come up with a timeless, flexible and energy-efficient building to sit opposite the Finnish Parliament building in the Töölönlahti area of the city.

Helsinki Central Library by ALA Architects

ALA Architects' response is for a three-storey structure comprising a contorted timber volume. Public activities and group study areas will occupy an active ground floor beneath the curving wooden surfaces, while a traditionally quiet reading room will be located above and a contemporary media facility and public sauna will be housed in the middle.

Helsinki Central Library by ALA Architects

Two main entrances will provide access to the building. A public plaza in front of the western facade is to lead into a main lobby, where a staircase will spiral up to the floors above, while a second entrance will face the railway station to the south and offer an escalator that penetrates the wooden volume overhead.

Helsinki Central Library by ALA Architects

"The architecture of the proposal is of a very high quality, executed with relaxed, broad strokes, and memorable," commented the competition organisers.

Helsinki Central Library by ALA Architects

They added: "The proposal provides excellent premises for the development of a completely new functional concept for the library. The building has a unique appeal and the prerequisites to become the new symbolic building which Helsinki residents, library users, as well as the staff will readily adopt as their own."

Helsinki Central Library by ALA Architects

ALA Architects, who is also based in Helsinki, plans to use local materials such as Siberian larch to construct the Helsinki Central Library and it is scheduled to open in 2018.

Helsinki Central Library by ALA Architects

The studio previously worked on another building with an undulating timber structure for the Kilden performing arts centre in Kristiansand, Norway.

Helsinki Central Library by ALA Architects

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Here's some extra information from ALA Architects:


ALA Architects wins Helsinki Central Library competition

ALA Architects have won the design competition for the new Helsinki Central Library with their entry Käännös. The open international two-stage competition attracted 544 entries from all over the world. The 16,000 square metre library building in the heart of Helsinki will consist almost entirely of public spaces and will offer a wide selection of services. It will serve as the new central point for the city's impressive public library network. The Central Library is slated to open in 2018.

Helsinki Central Library by ALA Architects

The winning entry is based on the idea of dividing the functions of the library into three distinctive levels: an active ground floor, a calm upper floor, and an enclosed in-between volume containing the more specific functions. This concept has been developed into an arching form that invites people to utilise the spaces and services underneath, inside and on top of it. The resulting building will be an inspiring and highly functional addition to the urban life of Helsinki and the nationally significant Töölönlahti area.

ALA is one of the leading Nordic architecture firms. The office has previously completed the Kilden Performing Arts Centre in Kristiansand, Norway, and is currently working on a number of large public projects in Finland including two theaters, five subway stations, and a passenger ferry hub. Käännös has been designed by ALA partners Juho Grönholm, Antti Nousjoki, Janne Teräsvirta and Samuli Woolston together with the ALA project team, assisted by the engineering experts at Arup.

Helsinki Central Library by ALA Architects

Description of the winning entry Käännös

Käännös grows from the dynamic between the site and the goals of the library program. The interplay between the building's three individual floors is the key concept of the entry.

The public plaza in front of the building will continue inside, merging with a catalogue of meeting and experience features. The ground floor will be a robust, busy and frequently updated space suitable for quick visits and walkthroughs. The active, zero-threshold public spaces will be visible, attractive, understandable and welcoming to all visitors.

Helsinki Central Library by ALA Architects
Site plan - click for larger image

The traditional, serene library atmosphere can be found on the top floor. This will be a calm area for contemplation, floating above the busy central Helsinki. It will offer unobstructed, majestic views to the surrounding park and cityscape.These two contrasting spaces that perfectly complement each other are created by an arching wooden volume. The spaces inside the volume will be enclosed and more intimate. The wooden volume is stretched vertically to create connections to the open main floors below and above. Soft, curved shapes will be present all around the building.

Helsinki Central Library by ALA Architects
Basement plan - click for larger image

The curved ceiling covering the ground floor, the intensive flowing spaces on the middle level, as well as the curving floor surface of the top floor are all defined in the timber-clad mass, which is as functional as it is expressive.

There will be three public entrance points in the building: one in the south for the main pedestrian flow from the direction of the Central Railway Station, one next to the public plaza to the west of the building shielded by an overhanging canopy, as well as a secondary one in the northeastern corner. The top floor can be reached from the southern entrance by an escalator that penetrates the wooden volume, or from the main lobby via a spiraling double-helix stair.

Helsinki Central Library by ALA Architects
Ground floor plan - click for larger image

Each floor will be a destination in its own right and a new exciting civic space in the heart of Helsinki. While being a traditional library space, the top floor will also act as a modern, open, flexible platform for a multitude of functions. The middle floor will offer opportunities for learning-by-doing in an environment optimised for contemporary media and latest tools. It will contain workshop spaces for music and multimedia, as well as a public sauna. A multipurpose hall, a restaurant and a cinema will be located on ground floor. The library's facilities will offer services, as well as places to meet, to discuss, and to present ideas.

Helsinki Central Library by ALA Architects
First floor plan - click for larger image

The library building will be extremely energy efficient. It 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. The wooden façade will be built from pre-assembled elements finished on-site. 30 millimetre thick Finnish first grade Siberian Larch wood, shaped with a parametric 3D design and manufacturing process in order to achieve a perfect execution of the desired geometry, will be used for the cladding. The appearance of the façade will develop over the years towards a deeper, richer version of its initial hue. The design of the façade is intrinsic to the passive design approach adopted by the project team. Detailed analysis of the façade performance informs the environmental solutions and has allowed the team to minimise any systems required, which in turn facilitates the highly flexible architectural solution.

Helsinki Central Library by ALA Architects
Second floor plan - click for larger image

About the competition and the Helsinki City Library

Helsinki Central Library will serve as the new center point for Helsinki's impressive public library network. It will be located in the very heart of Helsinki, in the Töölönlahti area, opposite the Finnish Parliament building. As its neighbors it will have some of the city's most important public buildings; the Helsinki Music Centre, the Sanoma House, the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art designed by Steven Holl, Alvar Aalto's Finlandia Hall, and the Central Railway Station by Eliel Saarinen, as well as several new office and residential buildings still partially under construction on the site of a former railway yard.

The open international two-stage architectural competition was launched in January 2012, and attracted 544 entries from all over the world. The six entries selected for further development for the second phase of the competition were announced in November 2012. The Central Library is slated to open in 2018.

Helsinki Central Library by ALA Architects
Long section - click for larger image

The goal of the competition has been to find a timeless and energy-efficient design solution that responds to the challenges set by the location. The library building should complement and adjust to the urban fabric of the Töölönlahti area. The building is to express the operational concepts of a library in a way that offers a technically and spatially flexible framework for cutting-edge, adaptable library operations, now and in the future. It will reflect the technical and cultural changes taking place in the society, particularly evident in the media world.

Library operations are statutory in Finland. Basic library services are free of charge and freely available to everyone. The new 16,000 square metre (approx. 172,000 square foot) library building will consist almost entirely of public spaces. The administrative and storage functions of Helsinki Public Library will remain at the main library in Pasila. In terms of services offered, the new library will be the largest public library in the Helsinki metropolitan area, and will most certainly become the metropolitan area's most popular spot for returns and reservations. It has been estimated that the library will attract 5,000 visitors per day and 1.5 million visitors per year.

Helsinki Central Library by ALA Architects
Cross section - click for larger image

The new library will be at the forefront of the renewal of the city's library services. In addition to the basic operations, there will be a wide range of services available inside the building, as well as an abundance of lounge spaces and auxiliary services that support the operations. The library will enliven and diversify the new urban environment created in the Töölönlahti area. It will offer activities and experiences for all ages. There will be plenty of spaces that enable people to spend time together, free of charge. The role of the clients will evolve from passive media users to active agents, participants and content producers. As a non-commercial open public space, the new Helsinki Central Library will act as a common living room and work space.