The Pasila Library was Helsinki’s central library until the opening of the wonderful Oodi library in late 2018. The Itä-Pasila district developed during the 1970s-80s following a master plan by Reijo Jallinoja with the intention of creating a new, modern city centre for Helsinki. This idea was not new, and stems from Eliel Saarinen’s 1918 “Pro Helsingfors” proposal for a metropolitan Helsinki, in which the area’s timber warehouses were to make way for a new railway station flanked by majestic avenues and thus offer the newly independent Finland the capital city it deserved. Conflicting visions, a worldwide recession and another world war delayed the ambitious plan, however, until it was finally set in motion in 1974 with the destruction of the warehouses. The original wooden Pasila train station thankfully survived and was moved a few blocks to make room for a new one. It is now located one block south of the library and now serves as the headquarters for a pacifist organization.
Following the urban planning trend of late modernism, the new district was organized around large office and residential towers linked with a pedestrian podium raised above street level. As part of the effort to relocate the city centre to this new neighbourhood, several cultural institutions were slated to move here, but with the notable exception of the Helsinki City Theatre, this plan was never implemented.
In 1986, a new main city library was inaugurated in Itä-Pasila to accompany this development and to relieve Rikhardinkatu library, which had been operating as the central city library since 1882. Designed by Kaarlo “Kale” Leppänen, the Pasila Library fills one of the Sim-City-esque square lots of the new district and connects to the pedestrian podium, extending the public space to a generous circular atrium and fountain.
Kale Leppänen was a member of Alvar Aalto’s atelier for over 20 years, where he notably worked on seminal projects such as Finlandia Hall. Aalto’s influence can be seen in the textbook light diffusing louvers above the atrium and their gentle curves, as well as the organization of forms in the stairwell.
Despite Jallinoja’s efforts, Itä-Pasila never dethroned the historical city centre and inhabitants found themselves with a central library that wasn’t really central. This was resolved with the opening of the Oodi library next to the main train station, bringing the heart of the Helsinki library network back to the city’s beating heart.
Rather than replacing the Pasila library, however, the city of Helsinki opted to extend the network and keep it as one of its branch libraries. Judging from my visit in March 2019, when I took these images, it it still popular and well used, notably for its award-winning multilingual book collection.
- Berndtson, M., & Haavisto, T. (2016). The Heart of the Metropolis. Finnish Libraries Now!
- Pasila Library – Helsinki’s main library. (2016). European Council Library Blog.
- Nikula, R. (1989). 20th Century Urban Design Utopias for the Centre of Helsinki. Architecture & Comportement / Architecture & Behaviour, 5(1), pp. 29–39.
- Tikkanen, T. (2020), ed. Helsinki alueittain 2019 / Helsinki by district. City of Helsinki, Executive Office, Urban Research and Statistics. p. 94
Library detail pages are primarily a place for me to collect information I gather on the libraries I visit, and are frequently updated. None of this should be considered authoritative, I am not an architect, nor a historian. If you notice something incorrect, please let me know!