Helsinki’s new central library Open Source will be Finland’s and the city of Helsinki’s most public building, a core for knowledge and experience. Its primary message – knowledge for all – is the corner stone on which Finland builds its future and celebrates its 100th birthday. It should by all means be the brightest and most distinguished building in the Töölönlahti Park. It should stand as a national landmark and as a reference point in the city.


Open competition 2012


City of Helsinki

Project group:

Ghilardi+Hellsten Arkitekter


Helsinki, Finland


18.000 m²


RIB Florian Kosche


Public building, Public space


Ghilardi+Hellsten, Tegmark

We propose a central organization, a compact building layout that liberates the north and south areas of site 2014 for outdoor programs and activities, fully integrating the library with the park on all three sides and creating a generous offset from the generic neighboring programs. Such an urban strategy has been already successfully implemented on the existing public institutions; the new library will therefore integrate seamlessly into the cultural landscape of the bay.


Centralized vertical


Decentralized work


Distributed field

of information

Open source /

Helsinki Central 

The building is conceived as a tree-like structure, with a sole vertical circulation core which serves a complex arrangement of open floor trays; the program is therefore laid out in a continuous space, starting with the main lobby at ground level, and ending with the sauna and café bar on the top floor. The collections and all the additional functions of the library are evenly distributed and fully intermixed in such system, which facilitates and systematically encourages programmatic promiscuity.

Functionally, this tree-like concept performs as both, a centralized system (the vertical circulation core) and as a distributed system (the trays). The sole vertical circulation point obliges regular users, occasional visitors and library personnel to continuously meet and interact, encouraging personal and collective encounters, while the open floor layouts cater multiple flow options and variegated program distribution per floor.

Long section
Long section
Cross section
Cross section

The skin of the library is design for maximum transparency at ground level; it’s conceived as a gradient filter that becomes fully glazed and fully operable at the lower floor, while less transparent and increasingly shaded on upper levels, where direct sun exposure is more critical. All fixed glazed surfaces are engineered as CCF (close cavity façade).

The ground floor indoor areas with its public functions become a natural extension of the public spaces and the urban uses of the park. There are multiple entrances, direct access points like the main and secondary entry, and also public access through support programs like the café and the store. The interior expands and interlocks with the park on the north, west and south sides, by means of hardscape plazas.

The structural approach is conceived as an extension of the architectural concept, the steel floor- beams are part of a composite slab which can span column free between the core and the ring beams of the façades, allowing maximum spatial flexibility. Vertical loads are distributed evenly along the perimeter of the building allowing for very thin members.

Plan 06
Plan 06
Plan 07
Plan 07
Plan 08
Plan 08

We propose an architectural-spatial organization that will not become outdated; our approach has a clear focus on the interaction between people and their collective and personal learning activities. A robust infrastructural support, design for dynamic and ever-changing library functions. A system which facilitates the creation of specific activities within generic floors, it is space conceived as a brain memory structure that allows for organizational changes, swaps, updates, and typological retrofit, with minimal building adjustments.  

We have the chance to establish a new urban center devoted to people and the cultivation of intelligence; we have a historic opportunity to materialize an ambitious project that can stand the test of time, a bold and elegant icon for Helsinki emerging metropolitan center.


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