The Vyborg Library

Finnish architect Alvar Aalto’s modernist library has been lovingly restored.

The Vyborg Library consists of two rectangular blocks offset horizontally from one another. While the exterior is simplicity itself, the internal organization is a complex field of transitional spaces. Designed by the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, the building embodies “a kind of unity of horizontal and vertical construction.” 

An internationally acclaimed example of “regional modernism” – the modernist use of common regional forms and materials – the library boasts a façade of white stucco, concrete, and glass, which contrasts with the wood finishes of the interior, including a famous wave-shaped wooden ceiling in the lecture hall.

Constructed from 1927 to 1935, during the time of Finnish sovereignty, the library was originally called Viipuri Library. When the Finnish city of Viipuri was annexed by the Soviet Union after the Winter War of 1939-40, the city’s name changed to Vyborg and the the library was renamed the Nadezhda Krupskaya Municipal Library. It’s now officially known as the Central City Alvar Aalto Library.

Pre-1940 photographs show the library located just behind the city's neo-Gothic cathedral. When the buildings surrounding the library – including the cathedral – were reduced to rubble by Soviet shelling, the library was abandoned and fell into disrepair. The library was listed as one of the 100 Most Endangered Sites by the World Monuments Watch in 2000 and again in 2002, but by 2010 the Russian and Finnish government had secured joint funding for a complete restoration of the building. The façade and interior walls were refinished and Aalto’s trademark interior details were brought back to life.