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The main building of the National Library of Finland

The main building of the National Library of Finland is one of the most renowned landmarks of the early-19th century Empire architecture and is also significant among the public libraries of its time at a European level. The point of departure of the design is fire safety: a construction site away from the university’s main building, surrounded by planted trees, as well as halls and rooms covered with arches.

In the architecture of the façade and the magnificent interiors, C.L. Engel combined, in an original way, motifs from Classicism and references to the ancient world. The Emperor Nicholas I of Russia approved the most monumental of the three alternatives drawn up by Engel. The symmetrical placement and the layout of the library halls can be derived from the bathhouses of the Roman Emperor Diocletian.

The exterior and interior architecture is based on solemn a Corinthian column system, the façades have been arranged applying the Classical temple architecture and the height dimensions of the columns and the framework follow the dimensions of the university main building exactly.

The large halls of the library are all interconnected. The entrance leads directly to the core of the building, the Cupola Hall, and continues to Rotunda annex. The numerous reading rooms, South Hall and North Hall are connected to the Cupola Hall. At first, all halls had only rows of columns circling the walls and behind the galleries supported by them, the bookshelves were organised by discipline. Hall columns are coated with stucco marble. The decorative paintings of the arches were completed in 1881.

Taken as a whole, the three grand halls of the National Library of Finland are one of the finest entities in Finnish architecture.  The entrance of the library is opposite the Cathedral of St. Nicholas, currently known as the Helsinki Cathedral, built at the same time. Consequently, the library is an inherent part of the entire Senate Square area and the political message of the architecture, which emphasised the state connection with Russia.

In the 19th century, artworks and plaster cast copies of Classical statues.  In 1904, Magnus Enckell’s large-scale Symbolist painting “The Golden Age” was placed on the upper gable of the North Hall.

Image: The main building of the National Library of Finland was designed by the architect C.L. Engel in 1836 and it was completed between 1840 and 1845.