World Monuments Fund ( WMF ) has awarded the 2014 World Monuments Fund / Knoll Modernism Prize to the Finnish Committee for the Restoration of Viipuri Library in the historic Baltic seaport of Vyborg, Russia.
Designed by Alvar Aalto between 1927 and 1933, and completed in 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.
The Viipuri library building, is one of the major examples of 1920s functionalist architectural design and is considered one of the first manifestations of “regional modernism”.
Within this extraordinary example of modernist design is a catalogue of innovative concepts which reflect master architect Alvar Aalto’s most mature and influential work.
Alvar Aalto’s Viipuri library and the efforts since 1994 to restore it, represent exemplars in both architectural history and the history of heritage conservation. The restoration has taken 20 years and is an ongoing collaboration between the Finnish and Russian national and regional governments.
The Aalto Library is a now a potential site to be included to UNESCO´s World Heritage List.
The World Heritage selection criteria on authenticity of forms and design, materials and substance, use, techniques and function are applicable to this building
The best examples of Modern architecture can show the way and thus deserve to be researched, carefully preserved and included among mankind’s most valuable heritage.
Vyborg Library is a library in Vyborg, Russia, 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 was changed to Vyborg by the USSR political authorities.
On completion in 1935, the library was known as Viipuri Library, but after the Second World War and Soviet annexation, the library was renamed the Nadezhda Krupskaya Municipal Library.
Nowadays, integrated in the Russian Federation city of Vyborg, the library is officially known as the Central City Alvar Aalto Library.
The library, one of Alvar Aalto’s most important works of his pre-war output, represents together with the Paimio Sanatorium, a cornerstone of his international fame. It is considered a masterpiece of the twentieth century architectural heritage and 20th century modernism.
The goal of the restoration has been to restore the original architectural values of the building.
Some fragments from the Soviet renovation 1955-62 ( eg the library’s entrance ) are preserved as a historical layer and some new solutions have been necessary in order to provide modern spaces and technology for the library
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.
To determine the 2014 recipient of the prize, the jury reviewed 30 nominations from more than 15 countries, including Brazil, Cuba, Georgia, Germany, Ireland, Mexico, Poland, South Africa, the United States, and Uruguay.
The biennial award will be presented at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City on December 1, 2014, by Ms. Burnham; Barry Bergdoll ( Meyer Schapiro Professor of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University, Curator of Architecture & Design at MoMA, and chairman of the prize jury ) and Andrew B. Cogan, ( CEO of Knoll ) .
This will be followed by a free public lecture by the members of the prize-winning team.
The prize consists of a cash honorarium of $10,000 and a limited edition Barcelona® Chair from Knoll.
World Monuments Fund / Knoll Modernism Prize jury chairman Barry Bergdoll …… “An icon of twentieth-century architecture—with its distinctive sky-lighted roof, undulating wood-slatted lecture hall ceiling, and glass façade-enclosed staircase—the library at Viipuri 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 restoration organized and executed an impressive international campaign that has ensured the survival and revival of Aalto’s masterpiece by restoring it to its original function as a vibrant municipal library.”
Andrew Cogan ….. “Knoll’s leadership role in the World Monuments Fund Modernism at Risk initiative reflects our unwavering 75-year commitment to modern design.
We are especially pleased that the brilliantly executed restoration of Viipuri Library embodies the spirit of the World Monuments Fund/Knoll Modernism Prize, which was established as the first award to acknowledge threats facing modern buildings and to recognize the heroic efforts of architects and designers who help ensure their rejuvenation and long-term survival.”
The 2014 Modernism Prize Jury
Barry Bergdoll, Meyer Schapiro Professor of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University, Curator of Architecture & Design at MoMA, and chairman of the prize jury;
Jean-Louis Cohen, Sheldon H. Solow Professor in the History of Architecture at New York University;
Kenneth Frampton, Ware Professor of Architecture at Columbia University;
Dietrich Neumann, Royce Family Professor for the History of Modern Architecture and Urban Studies at Brown University;
Susan Macdonald, Head of Field Projects at the Getty Conservation Institute;
Theo Prudon, president of DOCOMOMO/US, architect at Prudon & Partners LLP, and adjunct associate professor of historic preservation at Columbia University; and
Karen Stein, an architectural advisor, member of the faculty of the design criticism program at the School of Visual Arts, and executive director of the George Nelson Foundation.
Alvar Aalto’s architecture was always experimental, especially in the case of the Viipuri Library: – …. flat roofs penetrated by numerous skylights, with 1, 6 cm thick rough cast glass disks over the concrete drums held in place by their own weight, avant-garde heating and ventilation, steel columns and window and door frames, the undulating wooden ceiling of the lecture hall and many other novelties gave shape to the architectural quality of this building
A series of bridges and island spaces divide the large hall into two library zones
Alvar Aalto created a completely new open library system, where people could wander around in the world of books and find knowledge and understanding for life. He researched human needs for light, silence and fresh air to ease reading and concentration. The architecture of the library symbolises transparency, openness and equality.
The architects who developed the Modern Movement architecture in both socialist and capitalist countries wanted to build a better life for the ordinary man. The Aalto Library is a manifestation of all the best ideas of the Modern Movement. Modern ideas pursued democracy, freedom and justice.
The book shelves, lending hall counter, the book lift and its wooden cowering, the stair railings were reconstructed according to Aalto’s original specifications, drawings and photographs from 1930’s
History of the Alvar Aalto designed Viipuri Library
Concept Design ( 1927 – 1933 )
In 1927, Alvar Aalto entered and won an architectural competition for a municipal library in what was, at the time, the Finnish city of Viipuri ( not long after Finland gained independence from Lennon’s Russia )
In the 1927 the project’s site was to be on the corner of Aleksanterinkatu street (later Karjalankatu street, today Leningrad Prospect) and Torkkelinkatu street (today Lenin Prospect).
Aalto won the competition with a classicist entry titled “W.W.W.”, that was strongly marked by Nordic Classicism. The original design has been compared to the Stockholm Municipal Library by Gunnar Asplund, which was being completed at that time.
Aalto’s entry consists of a simple, rectangular building mass, from which a narrow wing containing the entrance stairway projects asymmetrically at right angles.
The facade decoration is a frieze with Classical figures running the whole length of the plinth under the ground floor windows.
The main theme of the interior is a high lending room, lighted through a glazed roof, with a sunken centre reminiscent of Asplund’s library and the library plan in Aalto’s own Parliament House entry.
The stairs led into the entrance hall, through which the visitor entered into a vestibule and finally into the lending hall lit by a vast glazed roof
Aalto’s winning entry, ‘V.V.V.’, differs so sharply from the final version, designed in 1933 and built over the next two years, that it is in effect an independent plan which was never built ( due to a changed site location requiring a different design solution )
Aalto reworked this entry in summer 1928, retaining the plan solution but eliminating all Neo-Classical elements, thus giving the plan a distinct touch of Le Corbusier.
The entire left-hand side of the projecting stair hall is glazed; strip windows both in front and at the back light the lending room (the competition jury had criticized the glazed roof of the lending room in Aalto’s original entry); and the building is crowned by a Le Corbusier rooftop garden with four ‘reading terraces’.
The entrance at one of the gable ends has a volute-formed concrete baldachin – another Le Corbusier loan.
The espalier for climbing ivy which covers a large part of the rear wall and one of the ends strikes a new, original note.
In January 1929 Aalto started work on his third plan for the library.
Still located on Aleksanterinkatu, the library was now to be combined with a cultural centre across the street, giving rise to a monumental square dominated by an equestrian statue.
The stair hall, glazed on one side, is connected with a projecting, L-shaped wing containing a children’s library.
A gigantic relief or fresco representing Classical temples, gods, and warriors fills the walls of the entire stair hall.
The lending room of the main library (with its sunken central area) and the adjoining reading room resemble those of the 1928 version, but drawings dated January 21, 1929 replace the strip windows with rows of separate windows, while in another version (July 22, 1929) a strip window runs the entire 27-metre length of the rear wall.
The rooftop garden with reading terraces, the baldachin over the end entrance, and the climbing ivy correspond to the second version.
The competition results were announced in February 1928.
In addition to its praise for the scheme, the competition jury also offered criticism: ……….. “Despite its architectural merit, the external stair structure causes difficulties with lighting, so it should be redesigned. The shelf arrangement in the children’s library calls for some changes, likewise the connection between the lending hall and the staff quarters, although this could be improved with minimal changes. Access to the boiler room via the caretaker’s apartment is inconvenient. For climatic reasons the glazed roof over the lending room should be replaced by sidelights and the structure of the roof improved”.
“Radicalism is required to avoid superficial cosiness. Instead we have to pin down the problems whose solution will create the basis for a more sustainable architecture and values genuinely worthy for the day-to-day well-being of man.” …… Alvar Aalto 1930
Then began a long seven-year period of maturation, which can be retraced thanks to two feasibility proposals and the final drawings.
The early 1930s depression postponed the building.
“When I designed the Viipuri City Library (and I had plenty of time, a whole five years), I spent long periods getting my range, as it were, with naive drawings. I drew all kinds of fantastic mountain landscapes, with slopes lit by many suns in different positions, which gradually gave rise to the main idea of the building.
The architectural framework of the library comprises several reading and lending areas stepped at different levels, with the administrative and supervisory centre at the peak.
My childlike drawings were only indirectly linked with architectural thinking, but they eventually led to an interweaving of the section and ground plan, and to a kind of unity of horizontal and vertical construction.” …….. Alvar Aalto, 1947
The final decision on the construction of the library was taken in September 1933.
However, by Sept 1933 the Viipuri City Council decided to change the site setting from the originally proposed urban setting along a main road, to now be situated within the central Torkkeli Park setting.
The changed location allowed Aalto to open up the building to light on all sides, so Aalto was commissioned to make new drawings.
The new design was completed in December and approved on December 28, 1933.
Over the course of this time, a distinct change took place in the architect’s way of thinking.
His design went through a profound transformation from the original architectural competition proposal designed in the Nordic Classicism style to the severely functionalist building, completed eight years later in a purist modernist style.
The location of the library in a park allowed a new kind of freedom in the design work, and the forms of the building were radically simplified.
The Viipuri Library is Finally Built ( 1934 – 1935 )
Construction began in April, 1934 and the library was inaugurated in October 1935
In its final form it represented International Modernism with the utmost refinement.
The library reflected a functionalist design with a personalized modern vocabulary evident in and informed by other projects undertaken by the architect during the pre-war period.
Viipuri Library was included as a significant indicator of the evolution of the architect’s style
Alvar Aalto Library in Vyborg (Viipuri Library), is a masterpiece of International Modernism in both European and global terms.
Viipuri Library looks like a typical Functionalist building, but its white surfaces and cubist massing conceal within them the seeds of “new Aalto.”
The free form of the undulating wooden ceiling of the Lecture Hall points the way to his future organic architecture.
Aalto’s architecture was always experimental, and it was especially so in the case of Viipuri Library.
Here he used flat roofs penetrated by numerous skylights for the first time. Later this was characteristic of his architecture.
Other avant-garde ideas involving heating and ventilation, steel columns and window and door frames, the undulating wooden ceiling of the Lecture Hall and many other novelties gave forms to the architecture of the library.
Collectively, those works brought international recognition to Aalto and helped lead to the Museum of Modern Art featuring the architecture, furniture, and designs of Aalto in the museum’s first exhibition on the work of an International Style architect in 1938.
The final building was formed from two rectangular blocks, and some ideas from the competition proposal are still present, albeit altered.
The original proposal called for a wide staircase rising up towards the lending desk, and Aalto strived to concentrate the supervision of several spaces into one point.
Next to the entrance is a huge vertical glass opening, which lights the office staircase and entrance vestibule.
In the final design, the center-point of the library is a spiral staircase ascending from the children’s library to the reading and lending hall levels and the main lending desk in conjunction with these .
The large glass roof of the competition entry was reborn as a brilliant roof construction with a heating system and skylights filtering diffused light into the reading and lending halls.
The flat roof of the lecture hall wing was designed as an outside terrace.
The library’s key functions include – lecture hall, children’s library, periodical room, reading room, stacks, lending area, and administrative offices
The completed building is a multifaceted and rich ensemble, where the impact of the pared down shapes and proportions and the carefully considered materials and colors are unhampered by romantic illusions and eclectic decorative motifs.
For the Viipuri Library, Aalto had enough assurance to go beneath the skin of the building and fluently integrate the modern aesthetic into his handling of volumetric, functional, spatial, and environmental relationships with a freedom and skill never before shown
Such architectural solutions as a sunken reading-well, free-flowing ceilings and cylindrical skylights, first tested in Viipuri, would regularly appear in Aalto’s works.
Aalto differed from the first generation of modernist architects (such as Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier) in his predilection for natural materials: in this design, “wood was first introduced into an otherwise modernist setting of concrete, white stucco, glass, and steel”.
Despite early and widespread acclaim for the library, its history reveals a near-tragic struggle to survive challenges including war, shifting borders, and abandonment.
From the perspective of Finland and other western countries, Viipuri is an extremely interesting historical city with medieval origins and multicultural layers of architectural heritage, including a medieval castle, 16th century housing, a fortress, beautiful Baroque churches from the 18th century, 19th and 20th century housing,
Originally, the area of Viipuri was inhabited by the Karelians, and archaeological research has revealed that there was a wooden fort in existence already during the 11th and 12th centuries.
Viipuri was a fortress city, officially recognised as Swedish in 1323.
It is a small ancient European town always historically right on the edge of a huge Russian empire. It functioned as a bulwark, for the rest of the Nordic countries, against Russia for centuries.
The town was ceded to Russia in 1721 and in 1812 Alexander I of Russia incorporated the town and its province into the newly created Grand Duchy of Finland
Following Finland’s independenve in 1917, Viipuri evolved into a lively commercial and cultural centre where most inhabitants spoke four languages: Finnish, Swedish, Russian and German.
At that time of building Alvar Aalto’s Central Library in Viipuri, it was a key European city, from where a great number of still existing Finnish companies’ famous families have their roots.
In 1939 Viipuri had some 80,000 inhabitants, including sizable minorities of Swedes, Germans, Russians, Gypsies, Tatars and Jews.
At the start of the Winter War, Viipuri was Finland’s second largest city.
The Winter War ( 1939 – 1944 ) …………. Viipuri becomes Vyborg
First in 1940 and later permanently in 1944, Viipuri and all other cities located in the Finnish region of Karelia, were ceded to the Soviet Union and all property fell under Soviet control.
However in 1941 it was recaptured by Finnish Forces
During the Winter War more than 70,000 people were evacuated from Viipuri to western Finland.
The Winter War was concluded by the Peace of Moscow, which stipulated the transfer of Viipuri and the whole Karelian Isthmus — emptied of their residents — to Soviet sovereignty, where it was incorporated in to the Karelo Finnish SSR.
As the town was still held by the Finns, the remaining Finnish population, some 10,000 people, had to be evacuated in haste before the handover.
Thus, practically the whole population of Finnish Viipuri was resettled in the remaining Finland.
Vyborg, Soviet Republic of Russia ( 1944 – 1954 )
The cultural capital of Karelia, submerged again into the Soviet Union in 1944.
War, unstable political relations, and shifting international borders ultimately resulted in Viipuri becoming Vyborg, part of the expanded territory of the USSR.
This turned Vyborg into a closed military area to which was out of bounds for foreigners, and the historical cultural and commercial contacts were cut.
By 1945 Viipuri had become Vyborg, the Finnish population had entirely relocated back to Finland, and the Soviet Union had drawn in a wholly new population from other parts of Russia.
The Soviets intentionally brought in new inhabitants from Caucasia and other far away, rural areas.
This way, the city suddenly had no history, and the new inhabitants had no relationship to cities in general, not to mention their own new home town.
Also, there was no one who could have told about the life before 1944, and even if there were some documents left, it is highly unlikely that the new inhabitants could have deciphered them in Finnish or Swedish.
In those bleak post-war years, the new population made good use of the Library, which still stood despite the misinformation of key western architectural historians who claimed in had been “destroyed”.
Until fairly recently, it essentially disappeared from worldview.
Viipuri, which became Vyborg, was heavily bombed during WWII; tbut he library sustained minor damage but remained intact. Fortunately only a single artillery shell had hit, impacting the north-west re-entrant, damaging window glass but having little permanent impact on the solid concrete structure.
In fact it was the heating system that still worked, and it was this that drew the impoverished new settlers to the building, especially in winter.
The building was allowed to fall into disrepair: the wave-shaped auditorium ceiling. were used for firewood and vagrants lived in the building.
Alvar Aalto said on a visit to Vyborg in 1962 that “the Library still stands but it has lost its architecture”
Soviet Repairs & Renovations ( 1954 – 1961 )
Close to a decade of abandonment following the war left many of the building’s elements, including surfaces, fittings, and furniture, beyond repair.
However drastic measures were forestalled, and a genuine attempt was eventually made to replicate what had been lost
In the post-war Soviet era, it had represented a genre of architecture that was frowned on and forbidden. It also stood as a symbol of a Finnish neighbour who was disliked.
Since the 1950s the library remained fully in operation although Leningrad architects had considered cladding it, in classical garb, following Stalinist preference.
In 1954, the Soviet authorities decided to restore the building to its former appearance.
An inspection in 1954 defined the extent of damage and deterioration of the building in percentages:
Inner and outer brick walls 15%
Reinforced concrete intermediate
Reinforced concrete flat roof 40%
Mosaic floors 80%
Wooden floors 100%
Cement floors 40%
Intermediate brick walls 100%
Inner surfaces 100%
Outer surfaces 100%
It took another four years before the restoration began.
The building was finally renovated in 1958 – 1961 to house the central municipal library of the Soviet City of Vyborg.
The original function and organization of the library spaces were retained, as was the heating system
The architects of the renovation were Petr Moiseejevish Rozenblum (1957) and after him Aleksandr Mihailovish Shver, (in the Stalinist classical style typical of the time) who unfortunately did not have access to the original design documents.
During the works, the city managers requested copies of the original drawings from the Minister of Culture in Moscow.
They also requested to order from Finland some technical components, such as the round glass panes for the skylights and the air-conditioning equipment.
“In those days, contact with Aalto’s office in Finland was not possible.”
The political situation in those days did not allow this, and thus the renovation was done on the basis of old photographs and fragments found in the building.
The planning and design of the renovation were based on this documentation and other technical research – so the repairs were carried out without an understanding of Aalto’s techniques and materials.
The demolition work had been thorough, but scarcely documented.
Shver was compelled to take on the work when the demolition work had already been carried out and rebuilding begun.
At the time, the flat roof technique had not been mastered yet.
To create an adequate fall on the flat roof, the eaves were raised by two layers of brick. Cement screed was cast over the insulation mass and on top of the screed several bitumen felt layers were fastened, more of which were added later as the roof began to leak.
Thanks to Shver, the lecture hall was not changed into a cinema.
However the height of the lecture hall’s large bay windows was decreased by 20 cm, because glass panes of the original size were not manufactured in the Soviet Union
Based on old photographs and paint marks found on the walls, Shver designed the paneling on the ceiling with spruce timber used by a musical instruments manufacturer.
The lighting of the lecture hall is also his design, as are the specially-made fixed furniture and fittings
The Dormant Years ( 1970 – 1990 )
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.
At the end of the 1980s, Russian architect Sergei Kravchenko studied and documented the library for several years and also visited Aalto’s office in Finland.
Until the coming to power of Mikhail Gorbachev, few people from Finland, let alone other Western countries, visited Vyborg, and there were many different accounts in Western architectural texts about the condition of the library, including erroneous reports of its complete destruction
The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 presented the opportunity to restore the library.
Sergei Kravchenko, established a good rapport with the Aalto office in Helsinki, surveyed the entire building and was able to confirm in 1991, that after several evaluations, analyses and research of the building have revealed that it is still possible to restore the building to its original form and condition in spite of mistakes in earlier repairs
International Restoration Commitments ( 1991 – 1994 )
Alvar Aalto was now dead, but his 2nd wife Elissa Aalto ( also an architect ) paid an instrumental part in developing good relations between the Finnish and Russian authorities involved.
Together with the Aalto Club, they launched an international petition for the restoration of the Library. IUA, ICOMOS and Docomomo, Architects Associations in several countries, architects’ offices, architecture schools and faculties and about one thousand architects and other specialists signed the appeal.
From that date a solid working relationship for restoration grew between the two nations.
In 1992, the Finnish Committee for the Restoration of Viipuri Library was established and began what would evolve into a 21-year project.
The Finnish Committee for the Restoration of Viipuri Library was the responsible planner and designer of the project, and had an advisory role that included supervising, guiding, inspecting, and documenting the restoration.
They were now working in two different cultural and social contexts, Russian and Finnish with differing legislation, norms and standards of building in each country.
The Russian federal protection status meant that all actions concerning the library must be approved by the Federal Ministry of Culture.
Restoration planning and design must be done by an authorized restoration institute and the building contractors must have a restoration license.
The works are controlled by authorized antiquarians.
The protection theoretically and officially guarantees a framework for the project but is not necessarily successful in practice.
Limited and intermittent funding resulted in the restoration occurring in phases, planned and carried out in order of urgency.
In spring 1992 architects from the Alvar Aalto Club and the Finnish Ministry of the Environment took the initiative in starting an international campaign to raise funds to save the library.
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.
Therefore, by neccessity, the restoration will be a long process consisting of sub-projects of various sizes, carried out in order of urgency.
The Committee includes members who had worked in Alvar Aalto’s office and who were experienced in restoring Aalto buildings.
The restoration is being directed by the Alvar Aalto Academy, under the direction of architect Tapani Mustonen, together with input from architect Maija Kairamo (formerly of the Finnish National Board of Antiquities) and ex-Aalto employees, architects Eric Adlercreutz, Vazio Nava and Leif Englund.
Architect Maija Kairamo praised the end result and said ” she wasn’t sure whether the building was in as fine a condition even when it was originally opened.”
The Alvar Aalto Foundation supported the work of the committee by providing it with free access to the archives of original drawings, specifications, and photographs for the development of the restoration plans.
The committee members are Chairman Eric Adlercreutz, Tapani Mustonen, Maija Kairamo, Leif Englund, Maren Nielsen, Olli Helasvuo, Eero Pekkari, Heikki Pekonen, Ben-Roger Lindberg, Aki Schadewitz, and Mariel Pohlman.
The library is represented by Tatiana Svetelnikova, Elena Rogozina, and Alexander Batalin.
The Russian and Finnish committees promoted the restoration of the building, which has been progressing piecemeal, while the building remains in public use and is visited by about 800 persons every day.
1995 – 2003 Considered Restorations get underway
In 1995 the Alvar Aalto Central Library was included to the Russian Federation’s List of Objects of Historical and Cultural Value.
In 1997 The Finnish Committee for the Restoration of Viipuri Library was registered as a charitable society.
In 1998 to mark the 100th anniversary of Aalto’s birth, the Getty Grant Program duly funded Project Preparation work to be undertaken by the Aalto Office.
A 2×10-metre section of the auditorium acoustic ceiling was reconstructed, but it was taken down later in 2008 to enable the reconstruction of the ceiling proper.
In 2000, the Viipuri Library was listed in List of 100 Most Endagered Sites by World Monuments Watch – which helped to raise the visibility of the project and funding by the World Monuments Fund to restore the structure’s roof and the 58 signature skylights over the reading room and lending library.
Due to piecemeal funding, the restoration has progressed slowly.
The following parts of the building have been restored:- the large glass wall in front of the main stairs / the roofs (including the cylindrical roof-lights); the steel windows and external doors; entrance to the children’s library / the former janitor’s flat / the periodicals reading room / the auditorium, including reconstruction of the undulating suspended ceiling.
In September 2003 an international seminar and workshop was held at the library, under the auspicies of DOCOMOMO, to discuss the restoration of the library, as well as its role within the local community. Experts in restoration from around the world attended.
The World Monuments Fund awarded in 2004 a Certificate of Exceptional Accomplishment to the restoration of Viipuri Library.
To mark the progress of the restoration, a book outlining both the history of the building and the restoration work was published in 2009, “Alvar Aalto Library in Vyborg: Saving a Modern Masterpiece”, edited by Kairamo, Mustonen and Nava.
2010 – 2013 Russia steps up
The restoration project gained speed in Dec 2010, when Finnish president Tarja Halonen met with then-Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin, took a maiden trip from Helsinki to St. Petersburg aboard the high-speed train “Allegro” and talked about the library
Halonen began the journey in Helsinki, while Putin joined her in Vyborg, for the leg to St, Petersburg
Shortly after this meeting, the Viipuri / Vyborg Library project received 6,5 million euros funding from Moscow, in order to get the project properly to completion
The Decree of the Government of Leningrad region from 29.12.2010 No 378, allocated 255,5 million Roubles (c. 6,5 million €) for the restoration works in the building of the Vyborg Central City Alvar Aalto library.
The decision gave 2,5 years to complete the project
In late 2013 the restoration was finally finished, having cost nearly 9 million euros altogether
Among the many sound approaches used by the building’s rescuers—a consortium consisting of Russian heritage conservation authorities, the Finnish Ministry of the Environment, Alvar Aalto Architects, the Alvar Aalto Foundation, and others — has been the idea of sharing the experience of this remarkable restoration effort through publications, symposia, and other means.
This plus the team’s commitment to exercising extreme care in the treatment of all details in this dauntingly complex restoration has resulted in the project already becoming a certain lodestar for others to follow.
The restoration of the library, officially completed in 2013, reflects over two decades of international efforts, particularly cooperation between Finnish and Russian parties, and the support of conservation professionals and international funding.
The project also reflects the highest standards of scholarship, authenticity,architecture, materials conservation, functionality, social impact, stewardship, and technical imagination.
Even though the Viipuri Library restoration will take several more years to complete it has deservingly become a leading example in the growing sub-specialty of conserving 20th century modernist architecture
To date the most critical work has entailed restoration of the building envelope, mechanical systems, and a number of the building’s key interior spaces.
The intelligent restoration designs include discrete modernizations which should serve the building well in its revived role as Viipuri’s primary municipal library.
Indeed, the rewards of careful planning and scrupulous attention to detail by the project development team are becoming increasingly evident with every passing year
It is no exaggeration to say that the whole of the international architectural conservation world is watching this project, and is learning from it.
Within this context the example represented in the Viipuri Library restoration is one among many ongoing efforts to preserve architectural heritage of the recent past.
However, due to all that is at stake here, and the exemplary quality of the restoration, it is an extremely important and influential effort.
Alvar Aalto’s Viipuri Library – Key Design Features
1. Auditorium Ceiling Acoustics
“Aalto’s treatment of the undulating wooden ceiling in the Library’s lecture hall is of great historical importance. Alto was, like Le Corbusier, one of the few architects of his time, who tried to consider ceiling vaulting in a new light.
Alto tried to prove with meticulous acoustic diagrams, that the undulating form he gave the ceiling enabled sound to reach the human ear more perfectly. Here scientific reasoning and artistic imagination have merged to free architecture from that rigidity which is today an ever-present menace” …… Sigried Giedion – Space Time and Architecture, 1962
Perhaps the most celebrated acoustic form of the early Modern Movement is Aalto’s wavy lecture hall ceiling at his Viipuri library.
Not only is this an important detail in one of his greatest masterpieces: it also proved a forerunner for his later design vocabulary, recurring in many forms.
There is little doubt that Aalto was sincere about the acoustic intentions, as a series of sections have been preserved which explore the paths of reflections between speaker and audience, for various different positions of the speaker.
The superb acoustic qualities of the undulating ceiling (as envisioned by Aalto ) were verified by Danish specialists.
Aalto’s acoustically measured design, involving pine strips, tongued and grooved – modulated according to acoustic calculation.
The result allowed pure silence, giving succinct emphasis say to the turning of a page on the lectern, as with snow sliding off a branch in the silent Lapland forest – or else perfect audibility even for those seated in the back row
Restoration plans were prepared for this incorporating the original specifications for Karelian pine, with a proper grading quality in terms of the amount of knots and annular rings revealed as originally conceived by Aalto
His ceiling required an ingenious frame fabricated in St Petersburg, to which the undulating wooden panelling was fitted.
As a form in the building, the ceiling was important in many ways, and Aalto made it surprisingly visible on the outside through the tops of the windows that lit the room.
On the one hand it introduced a new way of making layered ceilings with contrasted levels – something found throughout the later work – while on the other it introduced a vocabulary of curves that Aalto went on to exploit imaginatively in almost endless ways.
Related to the human body and its movements – for example, his ergonomic handrails – these curves related also to the new technology of laminating wood used in his furniture.
In composing buildings they allowed special incidents and points of focus, nearly always in contrast with the rectangular norm.
That these curves seemed by their designer naturally given – or at least obedient to natural laws – was important for their justification whether or not they actually worked acoustically.
2. Illumination – Day Lighting & Indirect Lighting
In a library, light is a primary consideration
Two different problems presented by a library architectural f different functions were attempted by Alvar Aaalto to be solved simultaneously
1) the protection of books from excessive sunlight and
2) creating optically hygienic overall lighting, so that readers will always be free from shadow and glare
The sunlight did not stream in directly, but was reflected in thousands of reflection lines which resulted from the conical, funnel-like form of the skylight, so that without the use of diffused glass, shadow free, diffuse light was obtained
This is an ideal light for readers who could take a book to any point of the room without being bothered by shadows or sharp sunlight
The roof consists of a single span ( 17.6 mtrs ) of reinforced concrete, with special beam forms , which result from the roof lighting system used
In the roof there are 57 circular openings ( 1.80 mtr dia ) and conical in shape – forming the roof lighting system
Here the light streamed through round conical skylights, about 1.8 mtr in diameter
The round form resulted in the most satisfactory inner stress condition for the horizontal glass structures, because in a cold climate the ever present danger of cracking must be avoided at all costs
As the depth of the cone is so great, that a 52* sun beam cannot pierce it freely, thus throughout the year sunlight is indirect into the hall
Artifical lighting has been created by placing strong light emitting lamps into the ceiling recesses and by using the walls as reflective surfaces for the indirect wall washer lighting
As the book shelves mainly line the walls, this lighting system has simultaneously provided their lighting , which irrespective of the inter related position of shelf and person is again free from shadow and glare
With the placement of the lighting fixtures, between the skylight openings, Alto was trying to mimic were natural daylight would normally come in, in order to achieve similar surroundings and environment when comparing the day to the evening
3 Heating & Ventilation
The central heating has been divided into 2 different systems according to the dual character of the building
The library hall, was built without internal partition walls, as a parallelogram form, with exceptionally strong, 75 cm thick brick walls
As the ceiling is divided into lighting parts and solid parts, in the areas remaining in between these, was placed a dense network of radiant heating pipes, ( Aalto’s “panel heating system” )
The “panel heating “system, allowed the production of radiant heat to warm up the concrete and plaster surfaces in the ceiling, via a dense network of pipes
The aim of the ceiling heating system was to achieve an overall solution, where no conflicts arise between the bookshelves and the heating elements , and where dust and circulating air ( which may damage books ) are eliminated.
Another major technical innovation Aalto introduced at Viipuri was a mechanical ventilation system that provided fresh air via ducts buried in the walls, throughout what was effectively, a sealed building.
The building has a mechanical ventilation centre, from which fresh air is distributed via special ducts into the different parts of the building. The distributing branches of these ducts are glaze fired clay or cast iron
The ventilation system can be modified to become a complete acclimatising apparatus. This was surprisingly advanced for the time.
Key Restoration Timetable Dates
1992 : The Finnish Committee for the Restoration of the Library was established under the initiative of Elissa Aalto and the Finnish Ministry of the Environment.
A similar Committee was established in Russia. An international fund-raising campaign was initiated.
1993 : – A preservation plan was begun and the most urgent repairs were made.
The Friends of the Viipuri Library was established.
In the beginning due to limited resources, the restoration was divided into sub-projects which were carried out in order of urgency to stop the further degradation of the building.
First it was necessary to ensure the adequate functioning of the technical infrastructure, electricity, heating, fresh-water supply and drainage
1994 : – Emergency repairs were made including external drainage and sewage system repairs.
Conservation and restoration of the great glass wall adjacent to the main entrance (completed 1996).
The glass wall was repaired to mark the restoration project’s onset.
The great glass wall is one of the main architectural features of the building, it symbolizes the metamorphosis of Aalto’s original classicist competition 1927 entry to one of the most beautiful examples of the Functionalist period.
The key initial restoration item was the massive glass façade, the steel-framed window wall at the main entrance lobby, a major technical feat in 1933.
This was dedicated to both Elissa Aalto and the Vyborg Library Director Svetlana Semenova, both of whom died in 1994, and who were the initiators together of the whole restoration project.
The original steel frame was conserved, as were the original brass hinges. The steel windows, the corroded iron fittings and rotten wooden listed during the Soviet period were replaced.
The frames’ screw joints had already been replaced by welding in 1958-1961, and the latter method was again used to join the frames.
All the metal parts were rust-protected and painted and the wooden joinery parts protected with linseed oil.
The repair was sponsored by Action Viipuri Switzerland and the Finnish Ministry of the Environment.
This method was later used to renovate all the steel windows, which mostly are originals from 1930’s.
1995 : – General principles and overall design for the restoration were established.
Emergency repairs made for the continuous functioning of the library
1996 : – Restoration of the small roof terrace by the Reading Hall, which also served as a pilot project for the restoration of all the roof terraces.
1997 : – Renovation of the former caretaker’s apartment begun as a case study project for the Library’s overall restoration (completed 2000).
The Finnish Committee for the Restoration of Viipuri Library was registered as a charitable society. It is the responsible planner and designer of restoration of the Library building.
1998 : – A ten square meter prototype of the Lecture Hall’s undulating ceiling was installed.
The original auditorium ceiling was probably built on site by carpenters who were specialized in boat construction.
The original ceiling was destroyed after the war and rebuilt in 1958-1961 on the basis of old photographs and profile fragments in the walls. However, the quality of wood and detailing was poor
The prototype was produced by the carpentry department at the Heinola Institute of Handicrafts and Applied Arts. However, the glued joints of the prototype did not survive the varying humidity and temperature of the Library’s inner climate.
In Fall 2000, the original working models of the ceiling were found. The joints were tongued and grooved and the intention is to reconstruct the ceiling following these models.
1999 : – The Lecture Hall Wing roof repair begun (completed 2001; financed by the Finnish Ministries of Education and of Environment).
Repairing the leaking roofs was the most urgent task.
A Getty Foundation grant funded:
– research on the cast concrete structures;
– restoration design of the Reading and Lending Hall roofs, including the skylights;
– documentation and measured drawings of the entire building;
– training and education program.
The lecture hall wing’s roof was repaired during the 1999 summer and the roof of the children’s library entrance in 2000.
The repair of the lending hall’s roof began in July 2001 and the final installation of the outer skylight glazing was completed in September 2002.
All the building’s roofs are flat; the original construction was aerated concrete slab, with an insulation layer and concrete screed. The rainwater was drained along inner pipes installed next to the eaves.
During the 1958-1961 renovation, the concrete screed and insulation were removed and replaced by some new synthetic insulation and bitumen layers, and the parapet was leveled up by two brick courses.
The later deteriorated bitumen and insulation layers above the original bearing concrete slab were removed. The original inner rainwater pipes were cleaned and new acid-proof steel drains were implemented.
The slope of the original roof slab was improved and then were added the waterproof layers and 5 cm of expanded plastic insulation, topped by casted frost-proof concrete screed.
The original height of the parapet was recovered and the eaves covered with copper sheeting.
The lecture hall wing’s roof functioned originally as a terrace with steel railings.
The steel railing will be installed at a later date, after the completion of the urgent and more important restoration works
2000 : – Repair of the Children’s Library entrance roof completed, financed by the Russian partner.
Heating system of the Lecture Hall Wing renewed by the Russian partner.
The original skylights, with a single 1,6 cm rough cast glass section, were simple installations, which were replaced with plastic domes in 1958-1960 ( additional domes were added in 1990. )
The 2001-2003 restoration also aims at reconstructing the original skylights’ form.
However, modern laminated glass is used instead of the original rough cast glass, and an additional pane of laminated glass is installed in the skylight drums to improve energy efficiency.
To adjust the height of the skylights plywood ground rings are added on top of the concrete drums.
The entrance doors to the periodicals room are the only original 1935 doors remaining, but the brass and wood handles have disappeared.
The doors were rusty, deteriorated and out of use. However, being original features, they were conserved in the most authentic state possible.
The glass entry doors are framed and braced with bronze / Aalto used skeletal bronze framing and glass to create the entry sequence
Only the lower parts of the frame had to be renewed. Only two original hinges were preserved and conserved
The doors were conserved, the locks modernized and the handles reconstructed according to the original drawings, old photographs and in comparison with similar handles used in the Paimio Sanatorium.
This work was carried out by an old metal workshop in St. Petersburg.
2001 . Repair of the Lending Hall terrace staircase financed by Foundation for Swedish Culture in Finland.
The stairs originally consisted of prefabricated reinforced concrete elements installed as cantilevered beams during the building of the brick wall.
The concrete has deteriorated, the reinforcement bars are rusted, and the bearing capacity gone.
During restoration, the carbonated concrete was removed, the reinforcement bars sandblasted and corrosion-protected, a few new reinforcement rods were added and new concrete was cast.
One step could be totally saved and a few others were partly kept with only some conservation needed. The staircase’s totally rusted original steel hand rail was replaced by a new one following the original design.
Conservation of the Periodicals’ reading room entrance doors financed by the Russian partner.
Publication of the Getty Grant Report.
2002 : – Repair of the Lending Hall roof completed and the Reading Hall roof repair begun, financed by World Monuments Fund Robert Wilson Challenge to Conserve Our Heritage.
Restoration of the Lecture Hall window frames financed by the Russian partner (completed 2008).
Conservation and restoration of the Children’s Library entrance doors financed by the Russian partner.
2003 : – The roof repair of the Reading Hall, the main entrance and the Lending Hall terrace completed.
Continuation of the restoration of the Lecture Hall window and of the Children’s Library entrance doors.
2004 : – Restoration of the Periodicals reading room, financed by Russian Federation and the entrance of the Cildren’s library, financed by Helkama Forste and City of Vyborg.
The Friends of Viipuri Library united to the Finnish Committee for the Restoration of Viipuri Library on 13th December 2004.
2005 : – The 70th Anniversary of the Library on 13th October 2005.
An international campaign for Aalto furniture for the Lecture Hall organised during the year in co-operation with ARTEK and Furniture Manufacturer Korhonen.
2006-2010 : – Restoration of the Lecture Hall financed by Finnish and international, mainly Swedish, contributions and with funds of the City of Vyborg.
Restoration of the entrance hall and the adjoining corridor with funds of the City of Vyborg.
The works in the cellar begun with dismantling the jungle of old pipes and heating systems.
The trench around the whole basement was excavated. New external double ground water drains were installed around the library.
The sprinkler system was installed on the ceiling of the book storage, which was entrusted with Compact bookshelf system.
Office rooms, corridor and stairs were repaired thoroughly by using original working methods and materials.
The marble mosaics of the both stairs were repaired.
Fire detectors, security cameras etc. in the corridor were assembled asymmetrically on neutral places not to disturb the corridor’s original minimalistic appearance.
Exterior granite steps were removed; concrete base was partly renewed and old granite steps were installed back.
The black polished granite stone cladding from the Soviet period was removed and new soap stone cladding was built following the original appearance.
Ceilings and walls were rendered and painted with lime plaster and natural resin paints.
New toilets were built on the original places.
The cloth storage space from 1960’s renovation was preserved
A new information desk was built and the Soviet steel and glass doors preserved at the entrance to reading and lending halls.
Paimio lamps on the ceiling of the lobby and the drought chamber were cast and produced in St Petersburg according the original lamps borrowed from Paimio hospital.
The whole exterior was renewed with lime plasters and painted with lime paint.
2010-2013 : – The restoration of the library was completed in 2013.
Restoration of the Children’s reading room
The finished restoration of the Children’s Reading Room
Official Opening 23rd Nov, 2013
The official opening of the Alvar Aalto Central City library attended by Finland’s President Tarja Halonen and the chief of the office of President of the Russian Federation Sergey Ivanov and the governor of the Leningrad Oblast Alexander Drosdenko
Cost Estimate for the Entire Restoration
Gross area of the Library 3 500 m2, net floor area 2 500 m2, volume 14 300 m3
Design and supervision 900 000
HVAC + electrical 1 000 000
Construction 4 600 000
Other (lift etc.) 250 000
Total Euro 6 780 000
The restoration strategy was to stabilise the building and prevent further deterioration, to renew basic technical facilities, and to restore the original architecture.
After the restoration, the building will function as the Central Municipal Library of the City of Vyborg.
Theoretically, the restoration of a modern building does not differ from the restoration of old architectural monuments, but in practice there are notable differences.
The original drawings and other documents are often preserved in archives, and the original building fabric plays a significant role.
In the case of the Viipuri Library the extensive resources of the Alvar Aalto Foundation were consulted. These include the original drawings, working specifications and photographs from the 1930s.
The restoration is financed jointly by the Russian and Finnish Committees.
During 1994 – 2010 approximately 2,102,000 € had been raised from the following contributors:
From Finland c. 567 000 €
The Ministry of the Environment of Finland
The Ministry of the Education of Finland
The Alvar Aalto Foundation, Finland
Finnish Association of Architects, SAFA
Finnish Association of Architect Offices, ATL
Helanderin Säätiö / Helander Foundation, Finland
Alfred Kordelinin säätiö / Alfred Kordelin Foundation, Finland
Suomen Kulttuurirahasto / The Finnish Cultural Foundation
Svenska Kulturfonden / Foundation for Swedish Culture in Finland
Jenny ja Antti Wihuri Foundation
Institute for Russian and East European Studies, Finland
Rakennustietosäätiö / Building Information Foundation RTS
Rakennustieto OY / Building Information Ltd
Alakari Wines Ltd, Finland
Finnglass Ltd, Finland
Suomen koneliike Ltd.
Stora Enso Ltd
M.A.D. Micro Aided Design LTD
Individuals and organisations
From other countries c. 420,000 €
Swiss architects (Action Viipuri)
Schweitzerischer Ingenieur und Architekten Verein
Comitato Italiano Aalto / Viipuri
Alvar Aalto Gesellschaft, Germany
Alvar Aalto Sällskapet in Sweden
The Swedish Government (Vyborg 600)
Kungliga Akademien för de fria Konsterna, Sweden
Prime Minister (1991-1995) Mr. Esko Aho (Omega Foundation, Switzerland)
Getty Foundation, USA
World Monuments Fund® Robert W. Wilson Challenge to Conserve Our Heritage, USA
Mrs. Phyllis Lambert, Canada
Mies van der Rohe Foundation, Barcelona
Emilio Ambasz, USA
The Viipuri Library Charitable Trust, UK
From Russia c. 1,115,000 €
The Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation
The Cultural Commission of Leningrad Region
City of Vyborg
Helkama Forste Russia
During 2011-2013 the Government of the Russian Federation financed the completion of the restoration with 6,7 million euros.
About the World Monuments Fund
World Monuments Fund’s mission is to protect against the loss of the world’s architectural heritage, including the built environment, the artistic elements that enhance it, and the cultural traditions that it sustains.
WMF builds global partnerships to conserve key cultural sites in response to urgent threats, and broadens public understanding about the central importance of heritage in our lives.
Our work makes historic places accessible and sustainable, builds and replenishes skills needed to care for our common heritage, and communicates the benefits of this work to the global public.
World Monuments Fund is the leading independent organization dedicated to saving the world’s most treasured places.
Since 1965, in more than 120 countries, our experts have been racing against time, applying proven techniques to preserve important architectural and cultural heritage sites around the globe.
Through partnerships with local communities, funders, and governments, we inspire an enduring commitment to stewardship for future generations.
An increasing number of irreplaceable sites are at risk, making it ever more critical that we take action to preserve our shared heritage. Your help is vital. We would not be able to accomplish our work without the involvement and support of a dedicated global community of people who care about cultural heritage.
Modernism at Risk
Despite a growing appreciation for twentieth-century architecture in recent years, great works continue to be lost to neglect, deterioration, and demolition only decades after their design and construction.
World Monuments Fund began preserving modern sites in the 1980s, when it helped restore seminal modern murals in and around Mexico City following a devastating earthquake. Later, it led the restoration of Brancusi’s Endless Column ensemble, in Romania, and the successful battle to save Edward Durell Stone’s A. Conger Goodyear House, on Long Island, in the United States.
In 1996, WMF launched its World Monuments Watch program, which over the years has brought attention and resources to more than 20 endangered modern buildings.
Among these, in addition to Viipuri Library, have been the : —
Rusakov Club, Moscow, Russia (Konstantin Melnikov) / Villa Tugendhat, Brno, the Czech Republic (Ludwig Mies van der Rohe) / the International Fairground, Tripoli, Lebanon (Oscar Niemeyer) / Taliesin and Taliesin West, Spring Green, Wisconsin, and Scottsdale, Arizona, respectively (Frank Lloyd Wright) / Kings Road House, West Hollywood, California (Rudolf Michael Schindler) /Grosse Pointe Memorial Library, Michigan (Marcel Breuer) / Orange County Government Center, Goshen, New York (Paul Rudolph) and The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri (Eero Saarinen).
The World Monuments Fund/Knoll Modernism Prize
In 2006, responding to growing threats to modern architecture, WMF launched its Modernism at Risk initiative with Knoll as founding sponsor.
The initiative provides a framework for addressing the issues that endanger modern landmarks and supports architectural design advocacy, conservation, and public education.
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
The first of its kind, the award acknowledges the growing threats—neglect, deterioration, or even demolition—now facing significant works of modernism, and recognizes the architects and designers who help ensure their rejuvenation and long-term survival. Its purpose is to raise public awareness of the influential role modernism plays in our architectural heritage, and recognize modern buildings as sustainable structures with viable futures.
The prize is awarded in recognition of completed (built) work, and may be awarded for an individual project or a body of work. The award consists of $10,000 and a limited-edition Mies van der Rohe–designed Barcelona chair, created by Knoll in honor of the award. The prize is awarded to the designer, architect, or firm responsible for the work.
An independent jury comprising professionals from the fields of architecture, architectural conservation, journalism, and related fields selects the winner. The jury is chaired by Barry Bergdoll, the Meyer Schapiro Professor of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University, and Acting Chief Curator of Architecture and Design, Museum of Modern Art.
Previous World Monuments Fund/Knoll Modernism Prize winners
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Knoll is the founding sponsor of the World Monuments Fund Modernism at Risk program.