Helsinki Central Library

Lead DesignerJennifer Marmon
Prize(s)2nd Place in Architecture Categories / Conceptual
Entry Description


The Central Library, in the midst of Helsinki’s cultural district marks a location that is to be the last institution to complete the Töölönlahti master plan designed by Alvar Aalto. Our interest lies not only in the complex program of a 21st century library, but in the site’s unexploited urban potential as a civic link. Along the plaza is a multi-height atrium which opens up to the park drawing people into the public living rooms located within the three sloping peaks, the Reading Room, Sauna and Restaurant. With panoramic views of the city and Senate Square dome, the Observatory terminates the promenade of escalators and staircases that dynamically rise through the building. The prismatic volume is at the same time integrated and outstanding, traditional and contemporary. It creates a stage-like space for the annual gathering of the National Day of Finland.

The library is organized by six intersecting axes that afford spectacular vistas while creating flexibility for the 13,000 m2 library program. With it’s six floor levels each pointing toward a celebrated landmark, the Central Library becomes a symbolic center for city. A series of 11.5 m deep programmatic strips are stacked to create a narrow building that is optimal for the Helsinki climate and library program. A long span truss system provides a column free plan guaranteeing the library’s adaptability to future alternatives.

At the earliest stage of design, environmental analysis via simulation tools enabled design decisions that optimized the sustainable performance of the building. The library’s concave building geometry amplifies daylight while rooflines are optimized for snow recycling. Taking a holistic approach to the facade, we propose a framework of performative design criteria based on program and environmental factors. The Pantheon’s ocular geometry is reinterpreted in a concave panelized, high performance envelope.