1991 - 2013

The restoration of Alvar Aalto Library in Vyborg

Alvar Aalto Foundation


Alvar Aalto won the design competition for the new Vyborg Central library in 1927 with a proposal to which he gave the pseudonym ‘W.W.W.’ The design was modern yet still steeped in the Classical tradition. Funds for building the new Central Library had been left in the will of Maria Lallukka, wife of Juho Lallukka, a Vyborg business tycoon.

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 Aalto’s own architectural thought processes. By the time the final drawings were prepared in December 1933, Aalto had become a thoroughbred Functionalist. When the Library was completed, it attracted worldwide attention and, in conjunction with Paimio Sanatorium, it raised Aalto up to become one of the figureheads of Modernism.

Vyborg Library ceased to be used by the Finns at the end of the Second World War, when Vyborg was ceded to the Soviet Union. The building survived the war with little damage, but remained unused for twenty years after the war with disastrous consequences. In 1961, the Library was reopened after being renovated according to the conditions that prevailed at the time.

The condition of the building deteriorated over the years and initiatives to save the building were made as early as the 1970s. The restoration project did not get started, however, until 1991 when some funds had been collected by public subscription.

From the very beginning, the Finnish Committee for the Restoration of Vyborg Library has acted as designer, director and supervisor of the project. The work was completed in November 2013, largely due to the allocation of substantial funding by the Russian Government. This restoration project, straddling the frontiers of two countries, has successfully brought back to life the original architectural value of the building.

The restoration of the Central City Alvar Aalto Library in Vyborg is completed and was officially inaugurated on 23rd November 2013.

The restoration has been a long process which started in 1991. The work was carried out as a Russian-Finnish joint cross-border project within the context of two different socio-cultural societies, customs difficulties, economic fluctuations and currency rates, which could change the situation overnight. The project has been a learning process for all who have participated during the past years.

The building is a world famous masterpiece of 20th century modernism. The tectonic forms are a result of functions. The architectural values are composed of modern technical solutions, which are the essential object of preservation, conservation and restoration.

The goal of the restoration has been to restore the original architectural values of the building. Some fragments from the Soviet renovation 1955-62 are preserved as a historical layer and some new solutions have been necessary in order to provide modern spaces and technology for the library.

The Aalto Library is a potential site to be included to UNESCO´s World Heritage List. The WH selection criteria on authenticity of forms and design, materials and substance, use, techniques and function were bared in mind during the work.

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.


The Finnish Committee for the Restoration of the Library was established under the initiative of architect Elissa Aalto. A similar Committee was established in Russia.

An international fund-raising campaign was initiated.


A preservation plan was begun and the most urgent repairs were made.


Conservation and restoration of the great glass wall adjacent to the main entrance (completed 1996). Viipuri Library exhibition began an international tour.

In order to propagate the aesthetic values of Modernist architecture and as a manifestation of the restoration of Aalto’s architecture the great glass wall was chosen. The original steel frame of the glass facade was conserved, as were the original brass hinges. All the metal parts were given rust-protection and painted and the wooden parts were protected with linseed oil. This method was later used to renovate all the steel windows, which mostly are originals from 1930’s.


General principles and overall design for the restoration were established. Emergency repairs made for the continuous functioning of the library.


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.


Renovation of the former caretaker's apartment begun as a case study project for the Library’s overall restoration (completed 2000).


A ten square meter prototype of the Lecture Hall’s undulating ceiling was installed.


The Lecture Hall Wing roof repair begun (completed 2001).


Repair of the Children's Library entrance roof completed, financed by the Russian partner. Restoration design of the Reading and Lending Hall roofs (including the skylights) continues.


Repair of the Lending Hall terrace staircase.  Conservation of the Periodicals' reading room entrance doors.  Publication of the Getty Grant Report.


Repair of the Lending Hall roof completed and the Reading Hall roof repair begun.

Restoration of the Lecture Hall window frames (completed 2008). Conservation and restoration of the Children's Library entrance doors.


The roof repair of the Reading Hall, the main entrance and the Lending Hall terrace completed.


Restoration of the Periodicals reading room, and the entrance of the Children's library.


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.


Restoration of the Lecture Hall.

Restoration of the entrance hall and the adjoining corridor.


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.

Aalto Library which was going to manage the works, agreed with the Finnish Committee about  consulting, granting of the iconographical materials, original documents, restoration design, technical and architectural supervision on the restoration works and presence at the library once a week during the construction period.


The works of the lending and reading department started in 2011 and were finished in May 2012.

To renovate the ceiling heating system of the lending and reading halls took one year. Brick walls were plastered with three layer St. Astier-lime plasters.

Floor and stair coverings are DLW linoleum and Artigo Rubber, Multifloor/DN-UNI carpets.

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.


The works in 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.

Reconstruction of the interior was restored to its original state according to original drawings and original building descriptions in the Children’s library.

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 gladding from the Soviet period was removed and new soap stone gladding was built following the original appearance. Main entrance doors from the Soviet era were dismantled and new bronze doors were reconstructed according the original design.

In the main lobby and the drought chamber there is ceiling heating which was renewed on the same manner than in other spaces. 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. Most of the window sills were made according to the original details. Exterior doors were maintained according to the old restoration descriptions. All the roofs and skylights were maintained.


The official opening of the Alvar Aalto Central City library attended by 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.

“W.W.W.” - Alvar Aalto Library in Vyborg 


In the Gallery at the Alvar Aalto Museum

Credits: Story

Exhibition  — Alvar Aalto Museum
Restoration — Finnish Committee for the Restoration of Vyborg Library
Online exhibition — Tomi Summanen, Producer
Exhibition content — Mari Murtoniemi, Curator
Exhibition content — Risto Raittila, Curator
Exhibition content — Timo Riekko, Curator

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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