The renovation of the Jyväskylä University Library won the 2022 Finlandia Prize for Architecture

The Jyväskylä University Library Lähde still exudes the fresh spirit of the 1970s but now, thanks to the renovation completed in 2021, it also meets the needs of today. Join Design Stories on a tour of the Lähde library that won the 2022 Finlandia Prize for Architecture!

University of Jyväskylä Library Lähde
Benches and sofas from the 1970s have been preserved in the floor halls of the library. Some old pictures of the University of Jyväskylä were added to the walls of the interior.

THE CAMPUS of the University of Jyväskylä, teeming with students, features a cubic, red-brick building with a facade adorned by a grid of blue steel beams and pillars. On the outside, the building does not look like anything out of the ordinary. It blends perfectly with both the red-brick seminar buildings designed by Constantin Kiseleff in the 1880s and the university buildings designed by Alvar Aalto, located only a stone’s throw away.

The library was designed by architect Arto Sipinen (1936–2017) in the early 1970s, and it was opened for students in 1974. In terms of architecture, the library represents 70s constructivism in its purest form.

The architectural ideals of the time are most prominently reflected in the main lobby of the library. In the middle of the building, there is an airy atrium, with a large skylight and space frame above. The skylight lets plenty of natural light into the lobby and reading rooms. The building looks like a large geometric composition, whose modularity the yellow details only emphasize.

University of Jyväskylä Library Lähde exterior
The library has an understated and simple appearance. The steel pillars and beams have been highlighted with blue coloring, giving the facades a grid-like effect.
JYU Library, Jyväskylä, Finland
The details of the exterior architecture are bright blue.
Lähde library in Jyväskylä
The Lähde library has a central lobby with a large skylight. It allows natural light into the interior.

BY THE END OF 2010, the library, which had been in active use for over 45 years, was in poor condition, particularly in terms of building system technology. The layout was also in need of modification, as digitalization had changed the purpose of the library.

The university decided to have the entire library renovated and commissioned the design to architect Ari Sipinen, the son of the original architect. Architect Merja Kiviranta and interior architect Marika Ågren from BST-Arkkitehdit Oy were also involved in the spatial and interior design.

The refurbishment was led by the architect’s son, Ari Sipinen.

“Before the library, I had designed the renovation of the Atheneum building on the campus, dating back to the same era, so I knew what I was about to take on, although this project was almost five times larger than that one,” says Ari Sipinen.

Jyväskylä Library Lähde
Piet Mondrian's color palette is visible in the library. In addition to white and black, bright basic colors such as yellow and blue can be seen in the details.
The yellow library Lähde
Yellow is the dominant effect color of the interior. The Lähde library is sometimes also called the yellow library.
A staircase in Jyväskylä library
All surfaces were replaced with new ones, but efforts were made to preserve the original appearance and colors.

In the renovation, the library building was almost stripped down to the concrete frame.

“Even the brick facade and insulation were removed. Much of the interior was also demolished. We were able to preserve some old brick walls and doors made of glass and metal, but at the construction stage, Bobcats were used indoors,” describes Sipinen.

The new solutions were designed with the Finnish Heritage Agency to reflect the original spirit and architecture of the building, as it was protected down to the materials, colors and even furniture.

“The refurbishment encompassed the entirety of the library, excluding the concrete frame, brick walls and some internal glass walls that have protected status.”

“The most significant changes were made to the spaces on the two floors below ground level. In the renovation, two floors that had previously been used for storing books were modified for use by students and provided with a connection to the bright main lobby,” says Sipinen.

A large skylight
The skylight above the central hall was completely rebuilt, but the structure below it was kept as a reminder of the original roof.
The sculptural spiral staircase in the library is original.
A round staircase
The concrete is poured into a mold made of boards, which can be seen on the surface texture of the stairwell. Natural light comes from the round skylight.
Black and white striped upholstery
The library's 1970s chairs were restored and reupholstered. The Finnish Annala weaving mill produced the black and white striped fabric, which was woven according to the original model.

EVEN THOUGH THE LIBRARY was renovated completely, the place still feels unbelievably familiar – to those who have visited the building before the renovation. Of course, everything looks new and clean, but the building still has the same, bright 1970s spirit.

The interior is particularly characterized by the yellow color that is repeated in the structures, floors and furniture. The original furniture, that was restored during the renovation, also contributes to creating an atmosphere resembling the original. For the sofa sets, benches and chairs in the lobbies, iconic black-and-white striped fabric was made in the Finnish Annala weaving mill according to the original model.

The interior is characterized by the yellow color, which is repeated in the structures, floors and furniture.

More and more buildings from the 1970s and 1980s have reached the end of their technical life and are in need of renovation. The Jyväskylä University Library Lähde was renovated in a way that updated the functionality and technical systems while preserving the original architecture. Perhaps now is the time to reflect more widely on what is valuable and worth preserving in Modernist architecture.

“In my opinion, renovations should, first and foremost, be designed to serve the users, meet modern needs and pay homage to the past,” emphasizes architect Sipinen.

The Jyväskylä University Library Lähde, Seminaarinkatu 15, Jyväskylä, Finland

The cafe in the Jyväskylä University Library
The cafe was placed in a new location on the ground floor. The windows were enlarged to give a view of the green campus and the main building designed by Alvar Aalto. Image: Joonas Lampinen

Finlandia Prize for Architecture 2022

FILMMAKER KLAUS HÄRÖ has chosen Jyväskylä University’s Main Library refurbishment project as the winner of this year’s Finlandia Prize for Architecture. Led by architect Ari Sipinen, the refurbishment gives the library a new lease of life while celebrating what is already there. The Finlandia Prize for Architecture is awarded by the Association of Finnish Architects (SAFA).

In his comments, Klaus Härö notes that the building seems to exude a deep sense of respect towards the historic library and its users and visitors.

“The designers have taken a meticulous and nuanced approach to understanding the purpose the building has served in the past and how it might continue to serve in the future. While they have preserved that which already exists, they have not fallen into an uncritical romanticisation of it just because it happens to match their own aesthetic preferences,” he says.

“The respect here is leavened by a confidence to make changes that are meaningful, bold even. This child of its time, skilfully set within the wider built and urban environment that surrounds it, is revitalised by the refurbishment that, with consideration and restraint, allows the old to thrive in its new context.”

Jyväskylä University’s library was shortlisted for the Finlandia Prize for Architecture alongside the Serlachius Art Sauna and Jätkäsaari Comprehensive School.

Text: Anna-Kaisa Huusko Images: Niclas Mäkelä

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