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63rd IFLA General Conference - Conference Programme and Proceedings - August 31- September 5, 1997

Library projects for the University of Helsinki

Eija Vuori
Technical Department


1. The Library Quarter project - a new service center for the Helsinki University Library

Helsinki University Library is the University’s main library and the National Library of Finland. It is also a research library open to the general public and specialises in literature intended for advanced studies in the humanities.

At the end of 1998 Helsinki University Library will offer its users a powerful new service centre. The Library will then take over the building of the Department of Pharmacy and the Library Quarter will be opened. The Library will then double its reading and research facilities, the Open Access Collection will be three times larger, there will be facilities for group work, and at last the Library will be able to offer special reading rooms with good reference collections. The American Resource Center and the Slavonic Library will also move to the Library Quarter.

The history of the buildings in the library quarter

The main building of Helsinki University Library forms a part of the city centre complex designed by architect Carl Ludvig Engel in the Empire Style. The construction and furnishing took many years and was completed in 1844. The Library is the finest of all the University’s architectural monuments, and is considered one of the most beautiful libraries in the world.

After the transfer from Turku in 1828, the university library had been accommodated in several different places in Helsinki and finally the University decided to erect a building for the library on the block north of the main university building. In the winter of 1831-32 architect Carl Ludvig Engel started to make sketches for the library building. In 1833 the drawings were ready and the emperor approved them in the summer of 1836. The blasting started in the autumn of the same year. In 1840 the exterior was completed, but the building was still damp so the interior fittings were delayed. The book collections were placed in the building in 1845 on shelves designed by architect Jean Wik.

The first major remodling of the building took place between 1879-1881. Central heating and water pipes were installed, the cellar was vaulted and the building was painted. In 1893 electricity was installed.

Although Engel had planned a park with lawns and trees around the library building, the University as early as 1842 started to plan a new building facing Fabianinkatu. Engel had died in 1840. The new building was intended for the Chemistry Laboratory and the Department of Anatomy’s dissecting theatre. In the Spring of 1844 the University’s Chancellor approved Jean Wik’s plan and cost estimates. The construction started in May. In the autumn of 1846 the building was ready for the first inspection. However many faults were found in the building. After the repairs and some functional changes, the building was ready in the autumn of 1847.

In 1869 the Department of Chemistry moved to a new building and the Pharmacy Laboratory was placed in the building. In spite of remodling between 1875-1881, the building was soon too small and obsolete for the Department of Anatomy. The first wing attached to the building was ready in the spring of 1890. The department got much more new space. The corner hall on the first floor was the Dissecting Room. The rooms along the corridor were laboratories and skeleton preparing rooms. On the second floor was the Museum Hall and a large auditorium. In the basement under the Dissecting Room was the Mortuary.

At the time when the Department of Anatomy moved into the new wing, the question of an enlargement of the Laboratories of Pharmacy and Physical Chemistry came up. The new extension was heavily criticised, above all for fire safety reasons. The second wing was ready in the Autumn of 1897. Both wings were designed by the architect Gustaf Nyström.

The so-called Rotunda was added to the main library building at the beginning of the 20th century. Gustaf Nyström had designed a semicircular booktower of six stories for the collections. Parts of the western facade of Engel´s building had to be pulled down to make space for the extension. The part that was pulled down included staff rooms, that the Library now had to do without. The library then had space for approx. 250,000 volumes. It was estimated that this would be enough space for 50 years, but the building was all too soon full.

In 1937 an architectural competition for an extension to the library was arranged. According to the first prize proposal, the old buildings and the Rotunda were to be pulled down. The outbreak of the war postponed the plans.

In the 1950’s a new building, Porthania, was built nearby. The library got additional space for books in its basement, which was connected to the library by an underground tunnel. In the middle of the block a storage extension was built. It had four underground levels and one above ground level for handling books. At the same time repairs were carried out in the old library building. Staffrooms were built in the Rotunda and a café in the basement.

The old institute building with its two wings became empty in 1996, when the Institute of Pharmacy moved out to the Science Park of Viikki. It is still often referred to as the Pharmacy building.

The renovation project

The University Library will occupy the whole block after renovation on the Pharmacy building. The work started in the autumn of 1996 and it will be completed in late this year 1997.

The building will be completely renovated and equipped with updated facilities. Because of the value of the building, one of the main ideas in the renovation work was to remove all the walls added during this century and get back the illusion of the original great laboratory halls. The rooms will be allocated for special reading rooms, such as the Archive Collection of Finnish Literature, the Slavonic Library, the American Resource Centre, music collections, manuscripts and maps. There will also be lecture rooms and facilities for group work, Conservation Unit and working areas for the staff. The area of the building is 4,200 square meters.

The second phase of the work is to build an underground corridor between the two buildings. The Rotunda will be repaired. The old staff rooms will be pulled down and the Open Access Collection will get additional space. The Lending Department will get more space in the Rotunda. Restrooms and staff facilities will be built in the basement. There will be only one entrance to the whole library complex and it will remain that of the Main Library for architectonical and historical reasons.

All the services in the whole library complex will be integrated. The electronic library makes self-service use also possible. The security aspect has been one of the most important things in the planning stages.

The architect of these renovation phases is Ola Laiho. His office will also be responsible for the interior design and furniture.

The project for underground book storage

There are also plans to build a great underground storage space in collaboration with the National Archive of Finland and the State Art Museum. The storage space will be made in two stages in two large caverns excavated in the bedrock below the library building. Inside the caverns, a four-storey concrete structure will be erected to house the books. Lifts and staircases will connect the storage caverns with the library building. The ground level part of the 1954 storage extension will be pulled down. The inner courtyard will be altered.

The volume of the storage space in the first stage is 81,000 m3, the total area 12,500 m2 (library space 9,000 m2). Until now the project has been delayed for economic reasons.

2. Two more library projects

Most faculties have their own libraries. Within the faculties there are separate departmental libraries. The National Library of Health Science, the Agricultural Library and the Forestry Library also serve as national libraries in their fields. These libraries will also have new buildings.

The library building for Health Science is under construction on the Meilahti campus area near the hospitals. The work will be completed at the end of 1997. The area of the building is 3,400 m2. It will be a part of the Biomedicum Helsinki, a new medical center for teaching and research.

The so-called Information Building will be a part of Viikki Science Park. The construction work will be started in the autumn of 1997. The Information Building consists of several university libraries which are specialised in the biological sciences. The project has been planned with the Helsinki City Library, which will also have its own section in the same building. The area of the university’s part is 5,800 m2.