Alvar Aalto Library in Vyborg (Viipuri Library), which was designed by Alvar Aalto and completed in 1935, is a masterpiece of International Modernism in both European and global terms. At the time of its completion, the town of Viipuri was part of Finland, but was ceded to the Soviet Union after the Second World War.
Alvar Aalto won the design competition for Viipuri Library in 1927 with a proposal 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. Many of the elements of this library reappear in later Aalto libraries including Seinajoki, Rovanemi, and Mount Angel, as well as the National Pensions Institute and the Wolfsburg Cultural Center.
The final decision on the construction of the library was taken in September 1933. By that time, the site had been changed, and Aalto was obliged to make new drawings. Over the course of this time, a distinct change took place in the architect's way of thinking. 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. In its final form it represented International Modernism with the utmost refinement. The library was inaugurated in October 1935.
Many architectural historians believe that Viipuri Library was completely destroyed during the Second World War. The truth is, however, that the building did not suffer any major damage during the conflict, but was completely abandoned for ten years after the war. Most of the damage occurred at this stage. The building was renovated in 1955 – 1961 to house the central municipal library of the Soviet City of Vyborg. The architects of the renovation were Petr Moseyevitch Rozenblum (+ 1957) and after him Aleksandr Mihailovich Shver, who unfortunately did not have access to the original design documents.
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 save the library. Finnish and Russian Committees for the Restoration of Viipuri Library were set up, and a fund-raising campaign was started to cover the costs of the work. In 1995 Alvar Aalto Library was included to the Russian Federation’s List of Objects of Historical and Cultural Value. Viipuri Library is listed in the List of 100 Most Endangered Sites by World Monuments Watch 2000-2001 and 2002-2003.
Although restoration efforts have been made in the past, the library was still in a difficult state in 2010. The building still functions as a library and is visited by about 800 persons every day.
The restoration of the library will be completed in 2013. The restoration is being financed by the Government of the Russian Federation. The Finnish Committee for the Restoration of Viipuri Library has an advisory role in the restoration project and will supervise, guide, inspect and report on the restoration.