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2014 World Monuments Fund/Knoll Modernism Prize goes to the teams behind the restoration of Aalto’s Viipuri Library—a 21-year effort

November 16, 2014

After winning a competition to design a municipal library for the Finnish city of Viipuri in 1927, Alvar Aalto prepared a winning scheme in a style best described as stripped down Classicism. A change of site in 1933 offered Aalto the opportunity to revisit his design. The International Style building that resulted reflected a functionalist design with Aalto’s personalized modern vocabulary evident in and informed by other projects undertaken by the architect during the pre-war period. Viipuri Library was completed in 1935 to wide acclaim; by 1940 its survival was at risk.

Shifting borders ceded Viipuri and all other cities located in the Finnish region of Karelia to the Soviet Union and all property fell under Soviet control (that’s when it became Viipuri Library in Vyborg). During WWII the library was damaged in the bombing of Vyborg and then sat abandoned for almost a decade. A series of largely inappropriate repairs and attempts at restoration, often carried out with a lack of understanding of Aalto’s techniques and materials, followed in the 1950s and 1960s as the building was brought back to use as a municipal library. Given the building was an Aalto design Finnish national concern emerged in the 1970s and 1980s. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union the condition of the library was finally known and the Finnish Committee for the Restoration of Viipuri Library was established in 1992. The restoration project launched soon thereafter would evolve into a 21-year project.

2014 World Monuments Fund/Knoll Modernism Prize was jointly awarded to The Finnish Committee for the Restoration of Viipuri Library, the planner and designer of the project, and The Central City Alvar Aalto Library, Vyborg, the primary on-site organization that worked with the Finnish Committee to implement the restoration plans and control the quality of the work. Officially completed in 2013, the restoration reflects over two decades of international efforts, particularly cooperation between Finnish and Russian parties, including fund raising. Viipuri Library was listed on the World Monuments Watch in 2000 and 2002 and World Monuments Fund made a grant of $300,000 to restore the 58 signature skylights. The objective of the project was to preserve the original architectural values of the building while meeting operational needs of a modern library. Certain features from the Soviet-era renovations were retained and restored as historical layers on the site.

The 2014 Modernism Prize presentation and lecture will take place December 1, 6:00pm-7:30pm at MoMA’s Celeste Bartos Theater. Seating is limited and registration is required. Register through WMF’s online events.

Established in 2008, the World Monuments Fund/Knoll Modernism Prize is awarded biennially for an innovative architectural or design solution that has preserved or enhanced a modern landmark or group of landmarks. More about the WMF/Knoll Modernism Prize.

A stunning photo essay of Vyborg Library by Lee F. Mindel can viewed at ArchitecturalDigest.com

Exterior, Viipuri/Vyborg Library, Alvar Aalto, 1933–1935; restoration 1992–2013. Photo: ©The Finnish Committee for the Restoration of Viipuri Library and Petri Neuvonen
Entry detail, Viipuri/Vyborg Library, Alvar Aalto, 1933–1935; restoration 1992–2013. Photo: ©Lee F. Mintel, for ArchitecturalDigest.com. See link at left for full slideshow.
Lending Room, Viipuri/Vyborg Library, Alvar Aalto, 1933–1935; restoration 1992–2013. Photo: ©The Finnish Committee for the Restoration of Viipuri Library and Petri Neuvonen