of Finland Bulletin 2014
The National Library of Finland Bulletin 2014


Dorrit Gustafsson

The renovation of the National Library of Finland respects Engel's architecture

Completed in 1845, the main building of the National Library of Finland was designed by architect Carl Ludvig Engel. A renovation project to conserve the building began in 2013 and still continues.

The library building has previously been renovated on several occasions. The first renovation was carried out between 1879 and 1881 with Frans Sjöström as the architect, and the Rotunda was extended from 1904 to 1907 with Gustaf Nyström as the architect. The library was again renovated between 1954 and 1957 with Aarne Ervi as the architect and between 1977 and 1985 with Olof Hansson as the architect. The Rotunda was renovated from 1998 to 2000, and the exterior of the building, from 2011 to 2012; both of these projects were undertaken under the supervision of the architects of LPR-arkkitehdit Oy.

The protection status of the building is indicated in the city plan with the letters sr (i.e., protected building) and sk (i.e., building protected under the decree on the protection of publicly owned buildings of significance for cultural history). The trees in the area outside the building are also protected, as indicated in the city plan with the letters sp (i.e., row of trees to be preserved or planted).

When the library building transferred from public ownership to the University of Helsinki Funds on 14 December 2005, the Uusimaa Regional Environment Centre issued the following protection regulations:

1. The buildings and their outside areas must be used and attended to in a way that sustains their significance in terms of cultural history.

The renovation of the National Library of Finland

2. The exterior architecture of the buildings must be preserved.

3. The interior facilities of the buildings must be preserved. Alterations are permitted, but the historical and architectural features of the interiors must be protected. Particular attention must be paid to protecting the halls and other main facilities of the main building and the library building.

The renovation of the National Library of Finland

The renovation of the National Library of Finland

4. The National Board of Antiquities must be consulted in the case of repairs and alterations. The Board may grant minor deviations from the protection regulations.

The current renovation is being carried out under the care and protection of several partners.

The author is the Director of Administration and Development of the National Library of Finland and represents the Library in the renovation project. Dorrit.Gustafsson [at]

Developer: University of Helsinki
Developer's consultant: Indepro Oy
Architectural design: LPR-Arkkitehdit Oy
Main contractor: NCC-Rakennus Oy
Occupant: National Library of Finland

An interview with architecht Pauno Narjus of LPR-arkkitehdit Oy

Designed by C.L. Engel, the National Library building is one of the most highly protected buildings in Finland. How does an architect approach this type of project?

By analysing and understanding the aims of protecting the building, by finding out what new functions may need to be placed in the building, and by considering how to address potential conflicts.

In this specific case, my work was made easier by a detailed report on the history of the building as well as by having a conservator-restorer on the team.

The renovation of the National Library of Finland

What is your personal "philosophy" on the renovation of old buildings?

My "philosophy" is very building-specific. The design process is based on the special features of each building because they must usually be preserved. The more comprehensive the vision of the original architecture and the more well-preserved the building, the less prominent the new features can be in the renovated building. The National Library building is a prime example of this genre.

A very different approach is exemplified by the repurposing of old industrial buildings, where, at best, the dialogue between the protected building and the new features connected to it constitutes a whole that is more than the sum of its parts. A typical example is the conversion of old dock buildings on the banks of Aurajoki in Turku into facilities for art schools.


The renovation of the National Library of Finland
What do you consider the most interesting feature of Engel's library building?

I have noticed that spatiality is always interesting in architecture, regardless of the period of construction. In Engel's library building, the breathtaking height of the main facilities and the intimate atmosphere created by the columns and lecterns near the bookshelves combined with the patina of the past contribute to a fascinating ambience and design.

What work will be done on the building in the next two plus years, and what do you consider the most important goals of the renovation?

The renovation of the National Library of Finland
In this type of project, the replacement of old engineering infrastructure is usually the catalyst for renovation. The biggest structural changes will be carried out in the top and basement floors, where new ventilation units as well as new pipes and cables will be installed. Functionality and accessibility will be improved, for example, with new lifts and cloakroom facilities as well as a self-service machine for returning books. Safety and security will be enhanced with new fire doors and an access control system. Roof repairs and the renovation of the Rotunda façade and windows will be the most visible changes outside the building. Conservation and repairs of surface areas and bookshelves in the main facilities combined with new lighting and furniture arrangements as well as wooden floors will probably be the most obvious features to customers. Changes will also be made to the Rotunda service area. All these actions aim to preserve the building, specifically in library use, which is the most important objective of the project.

The renovation will apparently also include conservation. What does this mean?

The renovation will include measures taken to protect and enhance the overall building architecture. The conservation of old surfaces will most clearly distinguish this renovation project from regular projects. The aim is to preserve the building for future generations.

The renovation of the National Library of Finland

The renovation of the National Library of Finland

The interior of the building will be conserved, which is a slow and costly process. Will specific facilities or areas be targeted, and if so, how?

The conservation will focus on the Cupola Hall and the South and North Reading Rooms. The arched ceiling with painted decorations, the stucco marble columns and the wooden sections of the lecterns will be subtly conserved and restored to preserve the patina of age. The conservation work will be extensive. A special feature of the National Library site is the construction of temporary, dust-proof conservation surfaces under the arched ceilings. Both facilities are also equipped with temporary ventilation units to control the conditions on site and ensure that air quality remains stable. This arrangement enables work to be carried out simultaneously on the arched ceilings and on floor level.

The renovation of the National Library of Finland

The library building is a challenging project in many ways. Because of its conservation status, the project work must first be approved by experts at the National Board of Antiquities. How has the design and decision-making process been organised in practice?

We have engaged in dialogue with the National Board of Antiquities during both the design and on-site phases, and have obtained their approval for all the major alterations. We have also abandoned some of the work planned.

Now that the renovation is ongoing, we have been in even more frequent contact with each other, and representatives of the National Board of Antiquities have visited the site during weekly conservation and site surveys, which include discussion and approval of details and models that are actively being worked on. A restoration group has also been established for the project to decide on the main guidelines.

The renovation of the National Library of Finland

The National Board of Antiquities has set a preservation objective for the project and specified that alterations can be considered only for good reason. How does this objective affect the architectural design process?

This kind of thinking is the basic premise for buildings with protected interiors. However, when restoring a building, it is sometimes difficult to tell which measures will help preserve the overall architecture of the building and which will support its temporal layers.


The renovation of the National Library
Accessibility is important in public buildings and a special challenge for old, protected properties. Will the accessibility of the National Library building be improved?

Accessibility will certainly be improved.

New lifts will provide access from the Rotunda entrance to the main facilities, and connections particularly to Fabiania will be improved. A handrail will be added to the stairs at the Unioninkatu main entrance, but accessibility to the upper floors as well as to the reading room lecterns will remain limited.

A large group of people are involved in the design and implementation of the renovation project. How would you describe the cooperation?

When the design team was set up, the developer required that the primary designer gather a team of specialist designers. We have previously designed similar projects with the same team and have no cooperation difficulties. Information modelling has provided a whole new dimension to integrating designs. All parties have been aware of the special features of this project and have, thus, acted with great care. The large group of people involved has slowed down decision-making to some extent. Then again, the need to make sure that specific details can be implemented has forced us to explore matters more carefully. I believe that the end result will reflect the diverse views of the parties involved.

Tell us briefly about your previous work.

After completing my military service , I joined LPR-arkkitehdit (previously known as Arkkitehtitoimisto Laiho Pulkkinen Raunio) and am now a part-owner of the company. I have previously participated in the conversion of old dock buildings on the banks of Aurajoki into facilities for the Turku Conservatory of Music and the TUAS Arts Academy as well as in the development of Kruununmakasiini and the SOK warehouse into museum facilities for the Forum Marinum Maritime Centre. Recent renovation projects have included the renovation of the Turku Voluntary Fire Brigade building and the Presidential Palace in Helsinki. I was also involved in designing the Helsinki Music Centre over a period of 12 years.


Dorrit Gustafsson is the Director of Administration and Development of the National Library of Finland and represents the Library in the renovation project.

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