In the bustling downtown district of Töölönlahti in Helsinki, just off the water and steps from parks, shopping centers, and nightlife hubs, sits the Helsinki Public Library — better known as Oodi.
Shaped something like a lazy Mobius strip, this iconic cultural center of the city opened in 2017 as more than just a haven for book stacks and study rooms; it was designed to be a true city hub, or as lead engineering firm Romboll put it, a “cultural living room.”
The project launched in 2012 with a design competition that saw more than 540 submissions. Finnish architecture firm ALA won, and quickly set to work on a building that would allow residents to congregate, celebrate, study, and reflect.
At one point in the design process, the firm considered adding a movie theater and sauna to the building, diversifying its offerings. It didn’t quite turn out that way, although the finished product certainly extends beyond the standard definition of “library.”
For starters, the “waving” architecture, fitting copious glass to “bending” spruce, is designed to weave together the traditional and the contemporary — a nod to the ongoing innovation at the heart of the city. But it’s also constructed responsibly, with energy-efficient lighting and design elements that are simultaneously functional and attractive.
For instance, over the span of three floors, Oodi (“ode” in English) offers larger-than-life pumpkin-esque pods for reading or collaborating; paneled stairs constructed with geometric shapes that double as seats for diving into a good book; and flowing white walls that often serve as screens for overhead projectors.
The library’s three floors, while seemingly a hodgepodge of different rooms without a uniting purpose, are, in fact, intentionally designed: The ground floor serves as a meeting place for the public, with a café for sipping wine or coffee and several event venues frequently used for gatherings of university students, chess club members, casual foreign language learners — even avid gamers. The second floor, designed to be more of an active space, is fitted with game rooms, family corners, and photography and video studios, among other dynamic areas. Once you make it to the third floor, expect what library staff call the “Book Haven,” a cozy spot with cafés and peaceful nooks that lets bibliophiles engage their favorite titles without interruption.
Perhaps the most intriguing part of Oodi is the second floor “Urban Workshop.” Here, you can engage in hand-on creation to your heart’s content; a soldering iron, laser cutter, 3D printer, and other cutting-edge tools are on hand to help bring shape to your CAD creations, personalize jewelry — heck, even sew that shirt you’ve been dreaming about. It’s a truly incredible way to bring an otherwise passive library to life with a hands-on activity. (Quick note: Not all services in the Urban Workshop are available as of this publishing date; check the website for up-to-date information and developments.)
The second coolest part of Oodi: the music creation facilities. Rooms with amplifiers, speakers, and numerous instruments (including guitars, basses, and synthesizers) are available for loan to library cardholders. You can also book a concert at Oodi — once you’ve got that tune, eh, fine-tuned.
An inspirational new look at a public cultural center, Oodi goes way beyond the traditional library model by opening its doors to innovation and learning of every kind. If you ever find yourself in the heart of Helsinki, set aside an afternoon to read, compose, create, and sip at this one-of-a-kind institution. You can learn more about upcoming events and complete offerings at oodihelsinki.fi.