Viipuri Library in Vyborg
Europa Nostra Award
This library building, a masterpiece of Finnish architect Alvar Aalto (1898-1976), is located in Vyborg, Russia. It was built during the time of Finnish sovereignty (1918 to 1940-44), before the Finnish city of Viipuri was annexed by the former USSR and its Finnish name changed to Vyborg. The library was built from 1933 to 1935 and is one of the major examples of 1930s functionalist architectural design. It is particularly famous for its sky lighted lending and reading halls and wave-shaped ceiling in the auditorium, the shape of which, Aalto argued, was based on acoustic studies.
The major restoration project, which has been carried out mainly by Finnish professionals but with whole-hearted cooperation and main part of financing from their Russian partners, aimed to prevent further deterioration, to renew basic facilities and to restore the original architecture. The library had suffered from serious neglect in the war years, and was largely rebuilt in 1955-1961. According to a legend, Aalto visited Vyborg in 1962 and commented: ‘The building exists but the architecture has gone’. There was concern that the library would disappear altogether, but since the 1990s it has been possible, with the help of the original drawings and other working documents conserved in Alvar Aalto Foundation, Finland, to renew stage by stage some of the spaces. In 2010 the Russian government decided to finance the completion of the restoration and in 2013 the fully restored library was inaugurated.
The Jury were in no doubt they were dealing here with one of the major masterpieces of the modern movement in architecture. Its exceptionally well-researched and highly sensitive restoration, maintaining the library’s functions but adapting them to 21st century standards, seemed to them to represent a commendable example of transnational collaboration, primarily of course between the Finnish and Russian restoration committees but with the guidance too of other international organizations concerned with 20th century heritage. Echoing Aalto, they noted: ‘The building still exists and the architecture has been brought back’.
The Europa Nostra Awards are presented to outstanding achievements from European countries not taking part in the EU’s Creative Europe programme.