Finland’s representation at the 16th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia responds to the theme ‘Freespace’ with a study of library architecture and public library spaces. The exhibition conceives libraries as a case-study of modern monumentality and as buildings that remind us of the core values of civic society and the power of enlightenment. The recently revised Public Libraries Act, which came into force in Finland in 2017, defines the public library as the nexus of active citizenship, democracy and freedom of expression.
Our reading of ‘Freespace’ rests on an understanding that the architecture of public libraries synthesizes the representation of a social institution, the functional needs of library spaces, and a publicly funded architectural gesture of considerable local significance. Library architecture has always responded to the changes in the library institution and in societal development. The public library was originally perceived as the symbol of progressive societal aspirations. Today it takes the form of the non-commercial common ground for intellectual and creative freedom. It is a free space for learning, doing and sharing. The public library of the 21st century is a ‘popular monument’: a non-commercial public space which is open for everyone, free for everyone, belonging to everyone and used for everyone’s benefit.
The exhibition explores the development of Finnish library architecture through architectural samples, their historical and theoretical context and a usable library space installation. Starting from the Rikhardinkatu public library from 1881 – the first building in Finland designed specifically for library use – the exhibition looks towards libraries of the future. The newest example is the new Helsinki Central Library designed by ALA Architects and due to open in December 2018.
Text: Anni Vartola, curator
Organiser Archinfo Finland
Commissioner Hanna Harris
Curator Anni Vartola
Exhibition design Tuomas Siitonen
Graphic design Johannes Nieminen
Project manager Maikki Lavikkala
Communications and editing Miina Jutila
Producer Sini Parikka
Main supporter Ministry of Education and Culture of Finland
Main partner City of Helsinki