Finnish Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale celebrates the role of libraries

Finland’s representation responds to the theme “Freespace” by transforming the Alvar Aalto Pavilion into a temporary library space, exploring the importance of libraries as places for learning, activities and peaceful immersion in books.

Finnish Pavilion at this year’s International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia honours the essential role libraries have played in the Finnish society. The exhibition, entitled Mind-Building and opening on 24th May, explores the development of Finnish library architecture by showcasing 17 significant library buildings from different eras. The six-month exhibition will culminate in the opening of the new Helsinki Central Library Oodi in December 2018.

“We have a fantastic, extensive library system, which deserves international recognition. Library buildings have often been ahead of their time and we wanted to depict their historical significance whilst looking into the future,” Hanna Harris, Director of Archinfo Finland and Commissioner of the Pavilion of Finland, says.

2018 is the first time Archinfo Finland is in charge of Finland’s presentation at the Venice Biennale. Mind-Building responds to the theme “Freespace”, set by the exhibition’s main curators Shelley McNamara and Yvonne Farrell. Dr Anni Vartola, architecture critic, architectural theorist and curator of the exhibition approached the theme by looking at the various roles of libraries as open spaces, centres for education and hubs for active citizenship.

“Library is a pillar of civil society. Finnish architects have realised our libraries in their physical form and thus made important contributions to the social currency that libraries provide for communities,” she describes the guiding principles behind the exhibition.

The libraries selected to be part of Mild-Building are not only architecturally interesting but also illustrate how the core functions of the library have evolved over the years.

Finland’s first public library, Rikhardinkatu Library designed by Theodor Höijer, and the recently renovated Kallio library depict the early days of the Finnish library, whereas Tampere City Library Metso represents postmodernism in library architecture. The exhibition also includes interesting examples of contemporary libraries that have been realised as extensions of older buildings, such as the main Turku library, designed by JKMM Architects.

The current focus on participatory design is clearly demonstrated in the architecture of Maunula library and the much-anticipated Oodi, designed by ALA Architects, which will provide designated spaces for encounters and dialogue as well as learning, activities and peaceful immersion in books.

Alvar Aalto: Viipuri Library. Photo: Gustav Wellin, Alvar Aalto Museum

“We will exhibit architectural models, various artefacts and visual materials from the different libraries. There were so many interesting materials to choose from I felt like a kid in a candy store,” Harris says, smiling.

Functionality of libraries is an important part of Mind-Building. Tuomas Siitonen, the architect responsible for the exhibition, has transformed The Pavilion of Finland, designed by Alvar Aalto in 1956, into a temporary library space that offers something for everyone. Much like in any other library, visitors can sit down for a breather, explore the library catalogues and books, and not only charge their mind but also their phone.

Siitonen designed the space in close collaboration with graphic designer Johannes Nieminen.

“We wanted the space to function and feel like a real library. I strived to achieve the right atmosphere through using specific materials, such as Konto acoustic panels, which helped create a peaceful sound landscape,” he explains.

Aarne Ervi: Töölö Library. Photo: Teuvo Kanerva, Museum of Finnish Architecture

Modern Finnish libraries are true multimedia hubs, and Mind-Building also includes video and sound art. A video installation by Antti Auvinen and Marja Rautaharju about Helsinki University’s Main Library Kaisa, video by Helmi Kajaste on the Sello library and a sound installation by Martti Kalliala and DJ Hvad provide an alternative perspective into the heart of Finnish libraries.

In the autumn a small group of library professionals from Helsinki will travel to Venice to run workshops about the future of libraries, and in November there will be a seminar on library architecture as part of the Meetings on Architecture programme.

Finnish architecture is strongly present at the Biennale this year. Museum of Finnish Architecture is the commissioner of the Nordic Pavilion, curated by Finnish architect Eero Lundén, and Finnish Talli Architecture & Design has been invited to take part in the Venice Biennale main exhibition “Freespace”.

Asmo Jaaksi, JKMM Architects: Apila Library. Photo: Mika Huisman

16th International Architecture Exhibition ”Freespace”
Curators Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara
Open to public from 26 May to 25 November 2018
Opening ceremonies on 24–25 May 2018

Venice Architecture Biennale Programme can be found here.

This year’s biennale will also present a A new digital platform, Based in Helsinki, Berlin, Moscow, Paris, London and Kyiv, an urban research think tank and a networked practice Leverage created the installation Free the Space aims to open this discussion by introducing a new space available for future exhibitions while responding directly to the theme of this year’s biennale. also collects proposals for the next biennale of architecture in Venice, 2020.

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