On 5 December, the Eve of Finnish Independence Day, Oodi opened its doors with great aplomb and a plentiful programme. The impressed audience toured the three floors, admiring this gift given to them; high-class architecture and an impressive building that has truly been dedicated to all of us, all day long and completely free of charge.
Dedications written by Mrs Jenni Haukio for the poem collection Katso pohjoista taivasta compiled by her were highly sought-after during the opening day.
Oodi’s opening speech was provided by a very important guest: on the outdoor stage, President Sauli Niinistö stated that Oodi is more than a library and saw the building as a tribute to our impendent country and its culture of valuing education. The programme on the outdoor stage, featuring speeches, music and dance, was broadcasted to the audience on a large screen.
In an interview with the president of Union of Finnish Writers, author Sirpa Kähkönen, Mrs Jenni Haukio said that she was taken aback by the beauty of the building. She also felt that the general education provided by libraries is of great significance. She was worried about the deterioration of literacy. Even in this digital age, children and young people should be encouraged to pick up a book.
Building works as planned
The opening days, one of which was the Independence Day, proved that Oodi’s functionality is excellent. It was easy to find and comprehend the different spaces. Every one of them served their intended purpose very well. The visitors praised the functional acoustics; despite the large number of visitors, sounds remained muted.
The building is a perfect venue for various programmes and events as well as a place for focus. Author Jari Tervo admired Oodi’s spaciousness and its exceptional views. They were also appreciated by many others; the window seats were very popular.
Families took over the stairs in the children’s department. Just climbing them entertained the children, but they were also used as seats and a venue for impromptu story times.
“When we arrived on the third floor, our mouths fell open. We were struck speechless by the beauty of the space,” said Samuli, who was reading a story to children. Some members of the group had travelled all the way from Kuopio.
Oodi was designed to be a meeting place, and it was proven to be one. Old acquaintances Markku Laine and Sinikka Mäkelä (right lower corner) met by chance at the opening ceremony. Oodi was enjoyed by people of all ages, and tactile signs guided the movement of people with visual impairments.
Second floor to evolve further
Visitors could also tour the functional second floor during the opening ceremony, although interior decorating and installation of devices were still in progress. The floor was closed after the ceremony and will be reopened on 28 December.
Yingfeng Zhang and Aili Yaran Yang (left image below) tested the fun chairs and found a game to play. Even though the second floor closed its doors for a while, the Book Heaven and its cafés as well as the first floor and its restaurant will remain open. The cinnamon heart is one of Oodi’s signature pastries. It is easy to break it in half and share with a friend.
Sisters Laura and Ulla Niini found piles of books to borrow on the first opening day. They loved the quiet room and its lush greenness.
“The building is big and impressive without seeming like an industrial hall. It is surprisingly cosy. The cafés are a wonderful idea. Customers do not have to settle for coffee from a machine. This could be a great spot for a remote working day,” they pondered.
Both the mothers and the children made new friends in the children’s department. Lila, Emil and Mio are less than a year old, and could be the library’s customers for decades to come.
Festive event for invited guests
A few days before the opening ceremony, the building was bustling with invited guests. In addition to the architects and contractors, also a large group of sponsors and supporters were invited. The event was an early start to the traditional Independence Day’s celebration at the Presidential Palace, as many familiar faces from members of Parliament to authors and artists filed into Oodi.
The first admiring sighs were heard as soon as the guests stepped in. Before touring the building, the guests enjoyed a glass of bubbly. In her opening speech, Speaker of Parliament Paula Risikko said that she believed that many members of Parliament had found their calling through library books and stated that she had watched Oodi’s construction from the windows of Parliament House. Mayor Jan Vapaavuori (on the left) said that Oodi will change the view in a profound way, acting as a link between culture and decision-making. He predicted that Oodi will become the heart of urban life. Architect Antti Nousjoki (on the right) from ALA Architects said that the passionate approach of Helsinki residents to the future building influenced the design process. The firm applied the best methods of modern architecture and technology to meet the high expectations.
The influential women behind Oodi
Oodi has a long history, and a large group of influential women have been involved in its creation.
The central library has been in planning since Member of Parliament Tuula Haatainen (left above) served as deputy mayor of Helsinki and Maija Berndtson (right above) as library director. The multi-purpose hall on the first floor was named Maijansali after her.
“At the beginning of the project, we reviewed whether Postitalo could be changed into a library. Lasipalatsi was another option. Some activities were planned to be moved underground, similar to the current Amos Rex art museum. Instead, we chose Töölönlahti, where the building will have plenty of natural light,” Haatainen said.
After Haatainen, the project was driven by her successor, Deputy Mayor Ritva Viljanen, now the mayor of Vantaa. Maija Berndtson invited Pirjo Lipasti (lower right) along, and she took the project forward for more than ten years as senior planning officer of the urban library.
After Berndtson’s retirement in 2013, Tuula Haavisto took on the role of library director. Currently, she work as Helsinki’s cultural director. When the construction started, Anna-Maria Soininvaara (lower left) was chosen as Oodi’s director. At the event for invited guests, her tight schedule of the past months finally allowed a moment for making a toast: the work is now complete. Oodi’s life starts here. The living room of all citizens has opened its doors. We look forward to seeing you there!