Viipuri Library is an early masterpiece of the Aalto office from the 1930s. Alvar Aalto and Aino Marsio-Aalto won the design competition for the new Vyborg Central Library in 1927 with their proposal ‘W.W.W.’. The design was modern yet still steeped in the classical tradition. Funds for the building came from a private donator.
The period between the competition proposal and the final design stage lasted five years. During that time, a great deal happened, both in European architecture and in the architectural thought processes of the Aaltos. By the time the final drawings were prepared in December 1933, Alvar Aalto and Aino Marsio-Aalto had become thoroughbred Functionalists. During the lengthy design process, Aino Marsio-Aalto specialised in children scale interior and furniture design. Marsio-Aalto’s sister was a trained kindergarten teacher and together they got interested in Maria Montessori’s pedagogy and its key idea of a child scale environment as a pedagogical instrument. Viipuri Library was the first Finnish library with a dedicated children’s section and an open-access shelving system. When the library was completed, it attracted worldwide attention, and in conjunction with Paimio Sanatorium, it raised the Aaltos to become leading modernists.
Viipuri Library was presented at ‘Mind-Building’, Finland’s exhibition at the 16th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia in 2018 under the chapter ‘Human Potential’.
Source: Finnish Architecture Biennial Review 2016 catalogue
The library was partly damaged during WWII and suffered neglect during the Soviet era. The project to restore the original features of Aaltos’ architecture began in the late 1990s, initially on a scant budget of international donations. It was completed with funding from the Russian government.
The building’s poor state of repair necessitated extensive technical upgrades. The original layout was basically unchanged, but the details and materials had been altered over the years. With the help of Aaltos’ original plans, the team was able to restore many of the original structures, materials and details. Some of the alterations made during the Soviet era were also preserved. Technical upgrades were undertaken with special care not to alter the visual identity. The team explored various approaches through on-site experimentation.
The dilapidated backdrop of the city accentuates the evergreen modernity of the again-resplendent Viipuri Library. Its story is a page-turner with a happy end; the building will continue serving the townspeople as their communal library.
The restoration was executed by a Finnish restoration commitee led byarchitect Tapani Mustonen.