2014 World Monuments Fund/Knoll Modernism Prize
Designed by Alvar Aalto and constructed between 1927 and 1935 in what was then the
Finnish city of Viipuri, 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
become the hallmark of his architecture.
Despite early and widespread acclaim for the building, its survival was never assured.
War, unstable political relations, and shifting international borders ultimately resulted in Viipuri
becoming Vyborg, part of the expanded territory of the USSR. The library soon faced threats
including, but not limited to, abandonment, inappropriate renovations, and unclear stewardship.
During Soviet times, access to the library was limited, leaving the preservation state of the
building uncertain. Until fairly recently, it essentially disappeared from worldview.
The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 presented the opportunity to restore the library. The
Finnish Committee for the Restoration of Viipuri Library, established in 1992, has led the
restoration efforts and has carried out the project with the Central City Alvar Aalto Library,
The restoration of the library, officially completed in 2013, reflects over two decades of international efforts, particularly cooperation between Finnish and Russian parties. The 1970s and 80s saw an increase in Finnish national concern for the library, yet it was not until the dissolution of the Soviet Union that a clear picture of the library’s conditions emerged. In 1992, the Finnish Committee for the Restoration of Viipuri Library was established and began what would evolve into a 21-year project. Limited and intermittent funding resulted in the restoration occurring in phases, planned and carried out in order of urgency. The restoration principle of the project was to preserve the original architectural values of the building while taking into account the continuing operational needs of the library. Viipuri Library was listed on the World Monuments Watch in 2000 and 2002 and WMF made a grant of $300,000 from its Robert W. Wilson Challenge to Conserve Our Heritage to restore the 58 signature skylights over the reading room and lending library. Certain features from the Soviet-era renovations were retained and restored as historical layers on the site.