Vallila library: Basic information about the architecture

Address: Päijänteentie 5, 00550 Helsinki
Total floor area: 920 m2
Utilisation area: 744m2

Built: 1991
Designer: architects Juha Leiviskä and Asta Björklund Furnishings: Studio Jatta Olin

Restored: 2008
Designer: academician Juha Leiviskä, architect Rosemarie Schnitzler Furnishings: Studio Jatta Olin
Reconditioned and renovated: 2008
Designers: academic Juha Leiviskä, architect Rosemarie Schnitzler
Furnishings: Studio Jatta Olin

The renovation of the library in 2008

Vallila library celebrated its 100th anniversary in September 2008. Before the anniversary, the library was renovated and renewed.

The main reason for the renovation plans was the new service culture of the Helsinki City Library, which we wanted to portray in the planning of our service areas. Traditionally in Finnish libraries, the division of work has been hierarchical, and the service counters have been heavy and massive. The clerks would sit near the doors behind long counters, taking care of the borrowing and returning of materials, whereas librarians have had smaller counters. The librarians have been responsible for information services and the presentation of the collections and premises of the library. This kind of hierarchy is no longer maintained.

Vallila library originally had separate counters for information services and borrowing. However, the information services counter was soon given up, and computers for customer use were placed on it instead. The counter designed for borrowing had become unpractical: the massive counter restricted staff from moving around in the direction of the library hall and it was ergonomically unsuitable for computer work - as it was not originally designed for such a purpose. The counter had also been altered over the course of time: e.g. the automated borrowing and returning machines had been placed on the counter afterwards.

The original appearance of the service area was kept during the alteration process, but the counters were slightly turned in to the direction of the door. Passageways leading to counters were also made to enable staff to move around easily. The counters were also made higher and narrower which increased the ergonomics for computer work and enabled better positioning of the automated machines.

According to preliminary plans, only some small renovation work was supposed to be done in the library hall: the oak parquet was worn, and the Viljo Kajava hall needed painting. However, we wanted our architecturally significant and beautiful library to be an example of what the libraries of Helsinki could be like today.
The dominant, highest part of the library hall, which the architect himself called “piazza”, was reserved mainly for reference books. However, reference books no longer have their former importance, so we wanted to create an area that resembles a living room with armchairs where the customers could sit, read papers and magazines, or explore the browsing collection that is placed by the wall. The browsing collection consists of interesting books that cannot be borrowed. Topics include architecture, photography, design, sports, history, and nature. They are meant to offer fine experiences to our customers.

The open space also forms a forum that can be used for different public events. In autumn 2008, we started the Vallila spotlight events. At our themed evenings we have visiting authors and experts, and they can also include music or films for example.
In addition to aesthetic viewpoints, the new library ideology affected the rearrangement plans of the piazza. The library wanted to create a comfortable lounge where different cultural events can be arranged as well. We have also tried to get rid of closed spaces. It has been typical of libraries to try to “hide” their different activities behind rows of shelves and offer chambers for isolated working. The general trend recently, however, has been openness and transparency: we want the activities to be visible right from the door (even from outside).

One inversed issue is also related to this question. It is assumed that staff move around in the library hall more than before; e.g. their duties in assisting users with computers have increased. Staff have to be easily accessible, which means they need to be within sight. For this reason, all the activities of the library have to be near enough and in sight.

People’s behaviour in libraries has changed during the past few decades, and libraries also want to get rid of the old idea of a bun-headed librarian, who demands absolute discipline and silence. In small libraries, liveliness might have been deemed disturbing. For this reason, a quiet working area and room for group work was built in the Vallila library. Building the reading room and group working room – by designing an entirely new glass wall – was the biggest alteration work in the renovation process. It went, however, surprisingly smoothly, and the new rooms fit well into the old plans.