My interest in the libraries of Helsinki had first come through photography, inside there were these hidden architectural secrets I had to photograph. It took me to new places in the city and I was often hearing about others I had to visit.
It became such an interest of mine that one time while taking about Helsinki’s libraries I was asked, “Where do you study?” I replied honestly, “I don’t, I just really like libraries.”
Coming from a small city in England libraries were an underused service, often hidden away in a dying high street. Here, in Helsinki, they were vibrant, open spaces bringing all sorts of people and offering varied services to the public. They not only do this excellently, they look good too.
So, does Helsinki have the best looking libraries? Lets find out.
Abundant in work spaces and meeting rooms Töölö Library is always a hive of activity that it is often difficult to find a place to study. Meeting rooms can be booked in advance and come catered with all the necessities you may need.
But what brings other people here.
The staircase that runs up through the centre of the building has a unique shape that when viewed from the lower levels looking up gives the illusion of looking into an eye, with the skylight at the top resembling its pupil.
Helsinki University Library
In the centre of Helsinki you will find a number of excellent Libraries, its most central are Kirjasto Kymppi (Library 10) and the Helsinki University Library. Governed by the university but open to all, it is full of work spaces, some of which come with fantastic views.
The library is full of open spaces and architectural delights. First there is the corkscrewing spiral staircase which can be quite a journey when climbing from the bottom to the top.
Make sure to visit the balcony on the top floor for one of the best views of Helsinki Cathedral over the cities rooftops.
The building serves as a excellent shortcut between Fabianinkatu and Vuorikatu, making it easier to reach Helsinki’s Metro. Overhead oval openings descending in size as the levels rise. Walking through it is almost impossible not to look up and admire its breathtaking architecture.
The last library I was to discover partly due to the fact that it is hard to notice from the street, which sees very little foot traffic. If you aren’t looking for it you will most likely miss it.
From the outside there is little indication to the size of Rikhardinkatu Library and that continues once you enter. It is not until you happen across the large hall with its demanding staircase that you realise the magnitude of the building.
Kallio Library is situated at one end of Karhupuisto, the centre of the neighbourhood in which it serves. The red brick building hides a beautiful atrium and grand staircase that connects the three floors of books.
Again, we need to ask the question:
Does Helsinki have the best looking libraries?
I think I have built a strong case and have only touched the surface. Helsinki has other great libraries waiting to be discovered, for example the exquisite National Library of Finland, and many more throughout Finland.
At a time where libraries are in decline in many countries Finland seems to be leading the way, providing services that its citizens use frequently but also focusing on design and innovation that will bring more than just book lovers through their doors.
Oodi, the newest library in Finland’s arsenal, has opened this month and it’s a library of a different class, its scale, services and design are something the city has never seen before. At the time of my last visit Oodi was still under construction but now open I am eager to visit the city’s latest offering.
The borrowers: why Finland’s cities are havens for library lovers from the Guardian
Finland’s flagship library Oodi opens to the public in Helsinki from local news source Yle.