Arla Building

Helsinki, Finland | C.1906

Photo Credit: @postcards_from_helsinki

Reading is a gateway to new worlds. For the visually impaired, access to reading material can be particularly limited, but not at Helsinki’s Arla Building. Historically a library for the blind, the Arla has provided braille books to the blind throughout the 20th century.

When the Friends of the Blind started building a working office for blind men, they included a library building in the plans. Designed by architect W. Aspelin, the foundation for the Art Nouveau-style stone castle was laid in 1905. The Library for the Blind, designed by architect Harald Neovius, opened the next year. Up until then, braille books had been available in a modest wooden building south of the Arla.

During its early days, approximately 100 visually impaired people borrowed braille books. Many users were students of the Helsinki Blind School, while others attended local work schools, the massage school or the music school. World War II brought a new group of visually impaired veterans to Finland known as the War Blind. By the 1950s, audiobooks had expanded access to those who had lost their sight but couldn’t read braille.

Surviving Finland’s Winter War as well as bombing raids during the Continuation War, a conflict during World War II, the Arla proved to be a resilient resource for their visually impaired clientele. The library operated at the Arla until 1963, when overcrowding led to a relocation. The Arla operated at its new location for 30 years before being transferred to the Finnish government.

Following a restoration in 2016, the Arla Building is now home to offices, a kindergarten school and Celia – a center on accessible literature and publishing that produces books and audiobooks and promotes equal access to reading and learning.

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