Design Diary

A personal review of design creations.

Oodi - Helsinki's New Central Library

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In just three months, the new Helsinki Central Library Oodi welcomed one million visitors. The new building by ALA Architects has won several prizes too.


Oodi, the new Helsinki Central Library that opened in December 2018, has proven to be extremely popular with Helsinki residents and visitors alike. The building welcomed its one millionth visitor already in March 2019 with daily visits on the busiest days topping at 20,000. People come there to spend time, not just to borrow and return books. The Urban Workshop is constantly crowded and the rentable meeting rooms and halls fully booked. Oodi perfectly fulfils its function as a no-threshold community centre open to all. The building also has one of the best terraces in town to enjoy the summer sun.

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Additionally, Oodi has gained world-wide publicity, and has recently also been selected both the jury and people’s choice winner of its category “Buildings Over 1,000 SqM” in the 2019 AZ Awards, as well as shortlisted for this year’s WAF Awards, Architizer A+ Awards and EU Mies Award, and longlisted for Dezeen Awards. In Finland Oodi has won the 2018 Steel Structure of the Year award.

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Oodi truly represents the new era of libraries. The building in the heart of Helsinki, only a couple of minutes’ walk from the central railway station, consists almost entirely of public space and offers a wide selection of services, mostly free of charge. It is the new central point for the city’s impressive public library network. Its design divides the functions of the building into three distinct levels: an active ground floor, a peaceful upper floor, and an enclosed in-between volume containing the more specific functions. In addition to the library operations and the café and restaurant, Oodi also houses Helsinki Info, the City of Helsinki’s information centre; Europa Experience, the centre for EU related information; Kino Regina, the National Audiovisual Institute’s movie theatre; and Playground Loru. 

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Oodi opens directly to the surrounding cityscape dissolving the border between indoor and outdoor areas. The Kansalaistori square seamlessly continues under the entrance canopy and into the building. The wooden front facade arches over the ground floor as a dramatic bridge-like structure. The resulting column-free lobby space is suitable for all kinds of events. Even the multipurpose hall can be used as an extension of the lobby. The massive entrance canopy forms a covered outdoor space and allows the building’s functions to expand to the square.

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The middle floor consists of flexible rooms, nooks and corners inhabiting the spaces between the trusses of the bridge structure. These enclosed spaces are designed to accommodate group working areas, recording studios, editing rooms and the Urban Workshop with such equipment as 3D printers, laser cutters, soldering irons and sewing machines in the visitors’ use.

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On the top floor the best features of a traditional library meet the most recent technologies. The open space is topped with a cloud-like undulating ceiling. The calm atmosphere invites visitors to read, learn and relax. The top floor also offers unobstructed panorama views of the city centre through the floor-to-ceiling windows and from the large terrace on top of the canopy.

The office and logistics spaces are kept to the minimum on the public floors to maximize the accessible nature of the library. The administrative and storage functions of the Helsinki Public Library remain at the main library. The book circulation relies on HelMet, the e-service of the Helsinki Metropolitan Area Libraries with 3.4 million works that can be reserved online and picked up from and returned to any of the 63 public libraries or six bookmobiles in the area.

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The spatial concept has been executed by building Oodi as an inhabited bridge spanning over 100 meters over the open ground floor space. The bridge structure consisting of steel trusses and beams is supported by two massive steel arches, tensioned together with a reinforced concrete slab. This innovative solution has enabled the column-free interior spaces and the possible construction of a future road tunnel crossing underneath the building. Secondary steel trusses support the cantilevering balcony and roof canopy asymmetrically from the arch structure.

Oodi has been built using local materials and with local climate conditions in mind. The wooden façades are made from pre-fabricated spruce modules. The complex curved geometry was designed and manufactured using algorithm-aided parametric 3D-design methods. Detailed analysis of façade performance informed the environmental solutions and helped in minimizing the requirement for mechanical environmental control systems. The glass facades allow for large amounts of daylight in the public areas. The optimization of building services enabled the flexibility of the spatial arrangements. The energy consumption level of Oodi is that of a nearly Zero Energy Building (nZEB). Its estimated life span is 150 years. It took three years to build Oodi and its total budget was EUR 98 millions.

The Grand Suites of Venice Simplon Orient Express

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When it comes to travel with class, there is no other train in world that can beat the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. The favourite playground of Agatha Christie is even adding more luxury than before.


More than a symbol of luxury, the iconic Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is also a stunning work of craftsmanship with the very best material and ingenious design. But now, Belmond, the train owner, adds even more luxury to it.

As of 2020, the legendary train will boast three new "Grand Suites". The new additions, which cost around $7,800 per person a night, are named after three cities the train serves, Vienna, Prague and Budapest.

Working with the very best craftsman including Jérôme Clochard, a traditional glassblower who has created the spectacular glass sinks and delicate light fixtures; Philippe Allemand for the marquetry and many more skilled artisans.

Each suite has been designed to reflect the destination it's named for.

The Vienna suite:

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Classic art deco feel with hues of gold and emerald green. Dark wood with silk fabric panels.

The Prague suite:

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Gold and maroon colours with hand-embroidered cushions and mosaic patterns.

 

The Budapest suite:

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A strong reminiscence of Ottoman and Gothic architecture with carved woodwork.

 

Belmond has also created the Venice, Istanbul and Paris suites few months back (see below in the respective order). Each suite has an enhanced private bathrooms with showers, double beds, a private living area and underfloor heating, as well as free champagne and a personal 24-hour cabin steward.

"Each meticulous suite will draw inspiration from the romance, adventure and style of each great European city we travel to. They are a real tribute to the romance and glamor of Europe and the golden era of rail travel." said Gary Frankling, Vice President of trains & cruises at .

Beside the beautiful journey with breathtaking landscape throughout the Alps, travelers have access to three dining carriages, a champagne bar. The iconic Venice Simplon-Orient-Express travels throughout Europe from March to November and visits Istanbul once a year. 

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The Lagoa House

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Overlooking the “Lagoa da Conceição”, Brasil Arquitetura worked on a three-level house and studio.


In the state of Santa Catarina (Brazil), the safe environment of the island allows home owners to drop high protection walls and let everyone enjoying the beautiful architecture of their houses.

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I visited Florianopolis and its direct neighbourhood exactly 10 years ago, back in 2009. Beside the natural wonders of the location, the food there is also exquisite and a pure delight.

In a small corner lot made of three levels in a steep slope, in front of the white house – oldest remnant of the “Lagoa da Conceição” region -, the architects designed a small construction, mixture of house and studio, that seeks dialogue with the “noble neighbour” and the lagoon’s landscape in the background.

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The house sits, as if fitted between the stone retaining walls, on the existing levels, without changing the terrain. On the contrary, the design takes advantage of the unevenness for the implantation of two two-story volumes, separated from each other by an internal courtyard and connected by a walkway.

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As basic materials Brasil Arquitetura used the exposed concrete on the slabs and the support wall along all the terrain, whitewashed walls, white goiás stone flooring and wooden frames. The use of glass continuously and in sequence in all frames, from the front street to the back of the lot, creates an intentional transparency, seeking the green landscape of the mountains and the blue of the lagoon in distance.

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Small details have great importance in this design. One of which is worth mentioning is the painting of three blind wooden panels on the frames of the living room and of one of the bedrooms in the back. Their colours are the same shades of red and blue used in the small boats typical in all Brazilian coast and a striking presence on the island of Santa Catarina.

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Pictures by Eduardo Beltrame, Ronaldo Azambuja.

Chuburná House

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By a turquoise beach close to Chuburná (Yucatan, Mexico), Cabrera Arqs have completed a stunning concrete home.


The shape seems simple: a large box of polished concrete whose apparent cold material contrasts with the heat on this predominant dune overlooking the beach… 

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Thanks to the luminosity of its windows, light penetrates the house in a subtle and controlled manner, allowing the ground floor areas to have a unique atmosphere and invite relaxation, reading and meditation. In the upper part the window becomes an instrument of visual communication as it offers a contemplative tool with the immensity of the sea.

The interior has a fairly simple decoration, the taste for Yucatecan crafts, the colours and textures and the architecture of the house make it an ideal architectural space to relax and disconnect from the world. Thinking that the most important thing is space and light, Cabrera Arqs have opted for neutral gray colours of polished concrete, both in floors and walls and the white colour as a light screen on the soffits of the house. This makes a very integral contrast with the wood that appears everywhere, in details, furniture and doors.

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The living room, the dining room, the kitchen and the terrace are a single space that has a small double height that integrates spatially the ground floor as the top floor and serves as a space and filter distributor to put overhead light of some grooves in the ceiling superior of the atrium.

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Next to it, and without any separation, is the dining area. Its simplicity lies with the glass that surrounds the space and allows the hosts and guests to see the beach and the sea while eating.

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In front, and without any separation, is the pool. Ultimate luxury to look at the coast from home.

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In the kitchen, a concrete bar virtually divides the space with the dining room with the use of pasta floor tapes give it a special design touch.

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In the upper part and around the double height a distributor hall is developed where it connects with a study that turns into an alcove with a view to the south, and also the circulation generates a very useful workspace for the owners.

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The rooms follow the same decorative style, simple and natural, with shortage of furniture, large presence of wood, large windows to put the landscape inside the house.

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Finally, its habitable rooftop works as a viewpoint in this fantastic place and as a detail of integration the land in the beach area is delimited with a very typical “albarrada” of the rural area of the state of Yucatan.

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Pictures by Tamara Uribe.