The Viipuri Library in Vyborg, Russia, was designed and built by modernist Finnish architect Alvar Aalto between 1927 and 1935. At the time of construction the land was held by Finland. However, as a result of shifting borders during WWII, Vyborg became part of Russia. Aalto’s library is considered a milestone in the history of modern architecture. The building exemplifies features that would later become defining characteristics of Aalto’s modernist work. These features include undulating ceilings, a free flowing plan and sectional spaces, the use of lighting and plantings, and the incorporation of wood. Aalto’s highly reasoned and unique design approach, in conjunction with a new palette of modern buildings materials, led to the blending of spare forms with Aalto’s appreciation of the natural and social conditions of northern Europe at the time. The building was designed with an inner rectangular space, similar to a classical cella, enclosed by pared down, undecorated facades. The ceilings are a unique feature of the library. One ceiling, located in the reading area, is an arrangement of gradually stepped planes pierced by numerous round skylights. The ceiling in the library’s public assembly room is distinguished by an undulating textured wood.
How We Helped
Viipuri Library was on the Watch in 2000 and 2002, nominated by the Finnish-Russian Restoration Committee and the Friends of Alvar Aalto. WMF raised funds for a conservation project at the site in 2001 and 2002. A new roof and skylight system was installed and the building’s distinctive exterior was repaired. The Finnish-Russian Restoration Committee restored the library’s reading room and public assembly space. In 2011, the Russian government committed the funds to complete the restoration of the building. Restoration of Viipuri Library was completed in 2013. The success of the project, and the ability of the restoration group to raise the necessary funds, represents a stellar example of international cooperation in the efforts to restore a modernist architectural landmark. The restoration project received the 2014 World Monuments Fund/Knoll Modernism Prize.
Why It Matters
Viipuri Library is regarded as a significant structure in the history of modern architecture. Many features that are found in this Aalto building foreshadow common characteristics in his later works. Aalto’s recurring themes include the incorporation of undulating surfaces, the incorporation of the free plan, the use of lighting, the use of natural and concrete building materials, and the strategic placement of plants.