Viipuri Library

World Monuments Fund

Viipuri Library

The 2014 World Monuments Fund/Knoll Modernism Prize is awarded to the Finnish Committee for the Restoration of Viipuri Library with the Central City Alvar Aalto Library. Located in Vyborg, Russia, the library was designed and completed by Alvar Aalto from 1927 to 1935 and brilliantly restored by the committee with diligence, perseverance, and unflagging attention to the highest preservation standards over more than two decades from 1992 to 2013.

An icon of twentieth-century architecture, Viipuri Library is one of Aalto’s most important buildings from the years in which he was adventurously exploring a new modernist vocabulary; indeed, photographs of the building soon made him known around the world. The library reflects the emergence of Aalto’s distinctive combination of organic form and materials with the principles of clear functionalist expression that was to be the hallmark of his architecture. The clear progression of spaces that lends a civic gravitas is still embedded in Aalto’s interest in Nordic classicism, but the frank embrace of a full palette of modern materials—from glass wall construction to the remarkable undulating wooden ceiling in the lecture hall—and to explorations of new types of skylighting make the building a landmark not only of modernist architecture but also of library design. 

Despite early and widespread acclaim for the library, its survival was never assured. War, unstable political relations, and multiple changes in international borders ultimately resulted in the former Finnish city of Viipuri becoming Vyborg, part of the expanded territory of the USSR. During Soviet times, access was limited and even the preservation state of the building was uncertain. Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the library has been restored in a heroic effort led by Finnish architects in conjunction with Russian colleagues and an array of international supporters. 

To overcome substantial obstacles caused by decades of inappropriate alterations, lack of financial resources, and inadequate stewardship, the Finnish Committee for the Restoration of Viipuri Library masterfully organized and executed an international campaign that has ensured the survival and revival of Aalto’s masterpiece by restoring it to its original design as a municipal library, now known as the Central City Alvar Aalto Library, Vyborg. The committee skillfully negotiated the requisite diplomatic, financial, and technical resources to complete an exemplary and meticulous restoration that reflects the highest standards of scholarship, authenticity, architecture, materials conservation, functionality, social impact, stewardship, and technical imagination. 

The conservation of Viipuri Library is a heroic effort that advances the field of modern heritage preservation and demonstrates that it is indeed possible to save the significant modern architectural legacy that remains at risk in Russia as well as in other countries.

-Barry Bergdoll, Jury Chairman

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About the World Monuments Fund/Knoll Modernism Prize

World Monuments Fund/Knoll Modernism Prize Winners