Lonely Planet Writer

Lounge on the Book Heaven floor in Oodi, Helsinki's stunning new library

Like a wave sweeping between the buildings of what is known as Citizens’ Square, Oodi (pronounced ‘awdi) is a veritable ode to Helsinki. The new central library breaks the boundaries of silence and invites children, tourists, contemplatives, rock bands, the whole world, in fact, to partake in its multi-faceted facilities and what’s more, it’s all for free!

The flagship library for a nation of booklovers. Image by Tuomas Uusheimo

In a country with the highest literacy rate in the world according to the UN in 2016, libraries are used by the 5.5 million locals at a rate of 68 million books per year. It is hardly surprising that the people of Finland and residents of Helsinki, in particular, are delighted at the prospect of this communal space created by ALA Architects. Believe it or not, there will be 100,000 books for borrowing on the Book Heaven floor where you can lounge around on a sofa musing about your next read.

The library is an indoor extension of public space, a civic “living room” that offers a movie theatre and recording studios. Image by Tuomas Uusheimo

Hobby enthusiasts can practice their party numbers in the soundproof studios and even record them, sew a dress, recycle would-be throwaways, try out 3D printing or have a meeting. The cinema occupies space on the first floor where the large lobby area will be used for exhibitions and pop-up events. As is the case in so many public places, the Finns are never far from their coffee with this national need being catered for by the restaurant and café. The Citizen’s Balcony will be a hang-out for city view photographers and meet-ups in the summer months.

Access to public library services is a statutory right for all citizens and Finns are amongst the world’s most enthusiastic users of public libraries. Image by Tuomas Uusheimo

While the emphasis will always be on books, the diversity of this space will lend itself to social encounters, sharing of resources and ultimately the galvanising of community spirit. Oodi swings wide its doors at 8am on 5 December, the day before Independence Day, with a knock-out programme incorporating a 207-participant dance, a composition by Kimmo Pohjonen spanning more than one building, and plenty more.

Only one third of the space within the library is used to hold books – a relatively modest 100,000 volumes at any time. Image by Tuomas Uusheimo

According to Nasima Razmyar, Deputy Mayor of Helsinki for Culture and Leisure:  “Oodi sits in the heart of Helsinki, surrounded by the institutions of a modern liberal democracy – the national parliament, the free press, the arts and museums. Our hope is that this palace of ideas will bring people and institutions together and enable new interactions, experiences and understanding that will lead us to achievements that are greater than any of us could achieve on our own.”