Viipuri Library

Completed Project
World Monuments Watch
Vyborg, Russia

2000 and 2002 World Monuments Watch

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, including 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 lecture hall is distinguished by an undulating textured wood.

Viipuri Library was included on the World Monuments Watch in 2000 and 2002 due to its rapidly deteriorating historic fabric. Shifting topographical conditions and a malfunctioning city sewage system had caused water problems in the basement, and the old heating and ventilation mechanisms within the building were problematic. The library’s structure was unsound due to exposed, rusty reinforcements and the carbonization of the concrete elements, and the roof, ceilings, floors, and exterior brick were all in need of repairs, yet resources for the building’s restoration were scarce due to an economic crisis in Russia.

Exemplary work carried out for the protection of modernist architecture

Following the Watch, World Monuments Fund helped support conservation of the library’s skylights between 2001 and 2002. In the decade that followed, an extended conservation project was carried out by the Finnish Committee for the Restoration of Viipuri Library, in partnership with the library, which had been renamed the Vyborg Central City Library. A new roof and skylight system were installed, the building’s distinctive exterior was repaired and the library’s reading room and public assembly space were restored. By 2003 the entrance doors of the newspaper room and the children’s library had been restored, further roof repairs had been carried out, and the window frames in the lecture hall had been conserved. The periodicals reading room was preserved between 2004 and 2005. In 2011, the Russian government allocated funding to the project, resulting in its completion in 2013.

In its newly restored state, Viipuri library will continue to stand as a milestone in the history of modern architecture. The success of the undertaking, including the ability of the restoration group to raise the necessary funds for its completion, represents a stellar example of international cooperation in the effort to restore a modernist architectural landmark. For these reasons the project was awarded the 2014 World Monuments Fund/Knoll Modernism Prize.

Last updated: July 2021.

Join us in safeguarding significant places.