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Alvar Aalto Library Goes From Imperiled to Prize-Winning

Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images

Wars, changing borders, and a long Cold War abandonment: the striking Viipuri Library, which was designed by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto and completed in 1935, has seen it all. It was originally built on Finnish soil; now it is in Russia. During Soviet times, the library was nearly impossible to visit and was threatened by "inappropriate renovations," according to Dezeen. The patron saint of Scandinavian architecture's monumental library was even placed on the World Monuments Watch List for at-risk landmarks twice in the last fifteen years. Now, after decades of effort, the Finnish restorers who worked on the preservation of this modernist masterpiece have won the World Monuments Fund/Knoll Modernism Prize.

The restoration required cross-border cooperation, since the Finns had the abiding interest in preserving their native son's legacy, but the Central City Alvar Aalto Library was now in Vyborg, Russia (formerly Viipuri, Finland). The 20-year-long project would likely have taken even longer had it not received help from the World Monuments Fund, which provided $300K for the restoration of 58 skylights over the reading room.

"With its distinctive sky-lighted roof, undulating wood-slatted lecture hall ceiling, and glass facade-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," said Barry Bergdoll, the chairman of the Knoll Modernism Prize jury and a MoMa architecture curator. "It's an icon of 20th century architecture," he added.

· Viipuri Library [World Monuments Fund]
· Alvar Aalto Viipuri Library Restoration Wins 2014 Modernism Prize [Dezeen]
· All Awards posts [Curbed National]