The Art of Possibilities
The old Kirkkonummi Library from the 1980s is gobbled up by the new Fyyri. Anni Vartola visits the new library designed by JKMM Architects.
If anyone is confused about the meaning of the word upcycling, I highly recommend a field trip to Kirkkonummi. The new main library shows us how old buildings can be recycled and updated to give them new life. It is not merely an extension, renovation or new construction project, but all three wrapped up in one: the old 1982 library building designed by Ola Hansson has been gobbled up, frame and all, by the new Fyyri by JKMM Architects. Even though the coupling of the old with the new has brought on the demise of the trusty old library, what the Kirkkonummi community has gained in return is a hybrid clad in an undulating copper armour and a lacy veil of perforated aluminium lattice, representing a type of utilitarian architecture that is both boldly assertive and yet firmly rooted in reality. As the product of quality-conscious public development, our forward-looking library legislation, and of architects who know their craft and have fearlessly seized the opportunities presented, Fyyri is a gift to people of all ages and social standings in Kirkkonummi.
Most of our new public libraries over the past few decades have come about as the result of design competitions, but JKMM received the commission through a traditional invitation to tender. The original design task was quite straightforward: the old library building simply needed renovating and expanding. But, as is often the case, the preconceived notions turned out to be too optimistic. The old library was in poorer condition than expected, and the property was also found to be too small for an extension that would do justice to the value of the site and meet the many spatial needs specified. The library is located right next to the medieval stone church in the very centre of Kirkkonummi, making the site simply too exquisite and the old library building far too outdated to merit the marrying of the old with the new in a humbly servile and amiable manner. JKMM decided to go all-out, but they did it with supreme skill.
The architects’ long-standing experience in designing public libraries and the seamlessness of teamwork is visible everywhere you look in Fyyri – in the facades and overall appearance that are just special enough; in the interior that flows effortlessly from one space to the next; in the controlled and tantalising richness of views opening out towards the church and, inside, to various parts of the building; as well as the interior design with its harmonious world of colour and light, and the high standard of finishes. This library is easy to breathe in because it does not discern or point fingers, but rather brings everyone and everything together. The administrative boundaries between different operators are visible only in signs and the curtain rails scattered here and there to provide possibilities for dividing the space. This is accomplished despite the fact that, in addition to the library itself, the city’s youth services, a musical playschool, a café run by rehabilitative work services and a community park offering open early education services have all settled under one roof.
On the other hand, libraries have long since ceased to be dedicated to the avid readers among the impeccably behaved cultured class; the first steps towards an era of more diverse information and a pluralist view towards the education and participation of active citizens were taken back in the 1990s. In other words, besides the traditional bookshelves, Fyyri has also needed to accommodate play nooks and sewing machines, music rooms and multimedia workshops, young children and hobby groups, storytelling rooms and group facilities, quiet and noisy activities. Principal designer Teemu Kurkela, project architect Jukka Mäkinen and their team have had quite a puzzle to solve, which was not made any easier by the fact that everything had to be overlapped and folded around the incorporated frame of the old library building and within the limits set by the confined property. The story room has found its niche under the stairs, and the black-box-type event venue Mörne, fitted out for versatile presentation and performance uses, is housed in the far north point of the building and has its own entrance for evening use, with space that can be screened off from the main library hall and used as a green room.
While not all of the rooms have clearly been afforded the same careful attention as the main areas – some have been left to make do as passable and rather pared-down spaces within the deep frame – every purpose has still managed to find its own, specific spot. Morning, daytime and evening uses, as well as the library bus ramps and loading docks and materials handling spaces, have been reconciled to ensure that no-one is disturbed by others but everything runs smoothly. Inside the building, the seam between the new and the old parts is noticeable only in the wall fragments that run through the space like a dash line and serve as unobtrusive yet effective space dividers.
And as if all of this were not enough of a balancing act, the strict surface area criteria of the Ministry of Education and Culture project grant were a tough nut to crack. A reminder of these is seen in the triangular outdoor patio in connection with the personnel facilities that appears as if it were an unintended bit left over from space divisions; Chief Librarian Margareta Kull-Poutanen explains that if it had been incorporated into the interior, the permitted surface area specified in the project grant would have been exceeded.
The popularity of the new library has surprised the people working in the building. The flood of visitors has caused pressure on customer service, and the sporadic disturbances that come as a flipside of the principle of openness have tested the personnel’s patience and taxed the further development of an even more multidisciplinary cooperation. Successfully implemented architecture can even be too attractive: some have felt that the children and teenagers jumping on the giant felt “boulders” and frolicking on the climbing ramp of the play nook in the children’s section, located in pride of place immediately next to the main lobby, have made too much noise. However, a visitor stopping by to have a cup of coffee and read the papers by the glass wall wrapped around the exterior wall of the old library building, enjoying the new views opening out towards the church, will not be too bothered by the noise. The large library hall has cleverly been located further away and the quietest study areas are on another floor entirely.
Practical Souvenirs from Turku and Seinäjoki
Comparisons between Fyyri and the other libraries designed by JKMM, such as the Turku Main Library (2007) or Seinäjoki’s main library Alpila (2012), are inevitable. A familiar echo from Turku are the large window walls that deliver an unrestrained and intimate connection between the interior and exterior spaces, as well as the ample use of wood and the colourful patterns in the children’s section, which have been created for Fyyri by illustrator Linda Bondestam with her felt inlay piece depicting seabed vistas. An almost unobtrusive yet clever artistic detail is the “reversed reeds” hanging from the ceiling in the main lobby: the light art installation Sinne-Minne by Petri Vainio.
An idea recycled from Seinäjoki is the bevelled, slashed and squashed box shape of the building, the copper shingle used as exterior cladding, the multi-purpose reading stairs and the reading nooks carved into an interior wall. What all three libraries have in common is the strong spatial feature of the ceiling and the ambitious interior design that speaks of exceptional dedication to the task. The large reading hall, in particular, is a visual gourmet experience. Subtly flecked by spotlights, the rhythmic strokes of the concrete beams in the ceiling seem to float high up in the air, and the window facade is divided into narrow streaks to let in a steady stream of soft natural light. The 48-metre white concrete reading desk integrated into the window wall is, in its downright military austerity, enough to instil an air of quiet discipline and order in the library hall that is sure to appeal to the friends of traditional libraries. The material and colour palette selected by interior architect Tiina Rytkönen – white concrete, white oak and brass, coupled with the berry reds and blues of the accents, furniture and fixtures – do not come across as too bleak nor too wooing, but rather give gently determined cues towards creating airy visual space for books and visitors alike. The design of the lighting fixtures deserves a special mention: Fyyri’s customised brass fixtures, produced in collaboration with Saas Instruments, inject this multi-purpose centre with just the right dose of the dignity and uniqueness that is expected of public cultural construction.
Architecture for the New Culture of Libraries
Drawing parallels with the Oodi Central Library in Helsinki (ALA Architects 2018) is perhaps unfair, but also necessary. The freedom of expression in new library architecture seems to be restricted by the long tradition of cultural buildings on the one hand and, on the other, the typological fluidity caused by the values crystallised and the functional changes instituted by the new Public Libraries Act that came into force in 2017. How to be a multi-purpose civic centre and a dignified cultural building all at once? How to be a monument without being too monumental – and what are the imaginary shared values that a library should stand to remind us of in this day and age? How is one to balance the architectural character in a way that the library/non-library becomes a locally significant public building, while also delivering the kind of familiarity and approachability in terms of the user interface that turns the building into a low-threshold “living room” for the townsfolk? When is a library too much or too little like a library? So far, our 21st-century flagship libraries have been seeking a balance between heroic artistry and a grunge-like roughness that lends itself to rapid updates. If Oodi is an elaborate, extravagantly sweet confectionary creation, Fyyri is a hearty three-course family dinner. Even though we are sitting at the table with just the immediate family, we are still observing a degree of formality, wearing our Sunday clothes and minding our manners.
Fyyri is ordinary enough and yet quite special at the same time because it manages to create a new language of expression for communicating the changing – already changed – habitus of the public library institution. The straightforward, even industrial ruggedness of the exterior envelope turns into surprising vividness in the interior. Along similar lines of thought, Fyyri is also both equitable and hierarchical all at once: there is a playfulness, mundanity and ordinariness within the diverse richness of the interior spaces, but one can also sense sombre solemness and even a perpetual constancy indicative of the monumental heritage of libraries. Fyyri is as much a pleasant community playground as it is a shrine for reading and literature because JKMM has been able to surrender to unpredictability. Taking risks has been rewarded. ↙
ANNI VARTOLA, DSc (Arch.), architect SAFA, writes about architecture, lectures about theory of architecture, conducts research on postmodern architecture and runs an online architecture bookshop.