Föreläsningssalen vid invigningen 2010-10-13

Föreläsningssalen vid invigningen 2010-10-13

Restaureringen av Aaltos bibliotek i Viborg har sedan starten varit en huvudsak för Aaltosällskapet. Förutom att ha finansierat såväl material som arbete med det ondulerande taket i föreläsningssalen, stod sällskapet bakom den ryska bok om biblioteket som gavs ut 2008. Boken fick stor spridning i Ryssland och har haft betydelse för att förmedla kunskapen om biblioteket bland de människor som haft mest att lära: ryska tjänstemän och politiker som behövt boken för att förstå ansvaret för en udda byggnaden vid rikets kant.

Nedan följer förordet av Rasmus Wærn.

Alvar Aalto’s library in Vyborg
Rasmus Wærn
Chairman, The Alvar Aalto Society in Sweden

Alvar Aalto is an architect of permanent significance, and the library in Vyborg is one of his most significant works. Aalto had an ability to create a truly inclusive architecture – his design involves even the most remote aspects of shelter for man. They accept human fallibility; they are tolerant towards their users. With a computer metaphor they have a user-friendly interface.

The popularity of Aalto’s architecture rises from the easiness with which they meet their users. They do all share a low threshold, in reality as well as literary. The care for the detail transmit a sense of relaxing comfort. The buildings oppose to the formalism, to principles. Formalism demands the user to adapt. The architecture of Alvar Aalto was, and continuous to be, adapted to their users.

Aalto’s library in Vyborg is important on several different levels. First and foremost it serves its purpose. The house is a home for knowledge and community life and needs to be taken care of simply for doing this. Second, it is a piece of beauty and pride for Vyborg and the region; a place for inspiration for any visitor. It has been a part of Russia’s cultural heritage, and needs protection as such. Third, it is one of the few buildings that have had a significant influence on modern architecture worldwide. This is why the world has stood up for the preservation and the crucial initial preservation works have been paid by foreign funds. One of these is the Swedish Alvar Aalto Society, which has taken special interest in the restoration of the roof of the lecture hall. The Society has also initiated this publication, in order to raise the Russian concern for the future of the building.

Today, Vyborg and Sweden is parted by many borders. It may seem strange that a small society in a remote country is closely involved in the restoration of a singular building abroad. But the cultural connections between Sweden and Vyborg and to the library are strong. Vyborg used to be a very cosmopolitan city, where Swedish as well as Finnish and Russian and German were spoken. The strategic position on the border zone raised its importance. Before Finland made it the second largest city in their state, it used to be Sweden’s most important fortification in the east.

The cultural connection between Sweden and the library does however not has anything to do with these historical bounds. The origin from the close connections between the Nordic architects in the beginning of the last century. Aalto’s first language was Swedish, and he maintained close relations with Sweden throughout his career. The library in Vyborg is the most prominent manifestation of the close Nordic contacts in the middle war era.

The process of designing and constructing the library extended over a long time. It started with a competition in 1927 and continued with alterations in the design in 1928 and 1929, where the building shifted from classicism to functionalism. The executed design was made in 1932 and the building was inaugurated in 1935. The competition entry was strongly influenced by Gunnar Asplund’s City Library in Stockholm that was in the final phase of construction in 1927. Asplund’s enclosed and archaic structure, which was entered through a walk from darkness to light, echoed in Aalto’s proposal. So did the tall portico that referred to the antique temples of Greece and Egypt. But Asplund’s library was not the only project with such character going on at the time of the competition. Another close friend of Aalto, Swedish architect Sven Markelius, had recently before the competition in Vyborg presented his competition proposal for a concert hall in Helsingborg. His entry featured a tall temple portico as well; or rather the entrance of a Hellenic grave. This motif was frequently used in the 1920’s and most direct influenced by the grave and museum Gottlieb Bindesbøll designed in Copenhagen for the Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen in 1839. Even the skylights had a predecessor in the Swedish architect Hakon Ahlberg’s steeply domed hall at the Gothenburg fair in 1923, according to historian David Pearson.

If the conception of Aalto’s competition entry was in debt to Scandinavian achievements in Stockholm, Helsingborg and Copenhagen, the transformation of the project was part of an even larger discourse. The shift from a hermetic box, with a mystic path through from darkness to light, was altered to a complex spatial odyssey with open connections between the building’s different parts. The transformation cannot simply be credited protagonists of international style. Aalto was among the first Nordic architects to encounter the abstract aesthetics of modernism, but the library goes beyond the profound rationality of the German architect Gropius or Le Corbusier’s devotion for the machine. Every space is designed for its interaction with human needs; daylight for the reader, acoustics for the auditorium, etc. Even if the outcome of the technical solutions did not improve the use in every aspect (the acoustic benefits of the waveshaped ceiling of the auditorium can not be proved in computer analyses) Aalto’s library erected a new base for architecture. This basis is still very relevant, and it is absolutely necessary that the very origin of this humanistic, organic and sensitive architecture remain intact.

Just as its architect, the library in Vyborg is international and local at the same time. It oscillates between the local need of the citizens in Vyborg, and the importance as a reference and guideline for architects worldwide. The modernity of the library is a reminder of the cosmopolitic atmosphere of Vyborg in the 1930’s. After his success with the sanatorium in Pemar, Aalto considered himself also part of the international society of leading architects. This did not claim an extensive production abroad. The quality in Aalto’s works comes greatly from his strive to create a site-specific architecture. If the site did not carry a value possible to connect to, these values had to be created as well. As architect Petra Ceferin has pointed out, Aalto had his building photographed with faked greenery in the foreground, thereby making it part of the legend of the natural legacy in Finnish architecture. Later, the building was also partly covered with wine in order to merge with the site.

The main legacy of the library is to be seen in Aalto’s own works. Aalto was an architect who worked with a number of themes in his production: The wave, the contrast to the landscape, the lantern roofscape, the sunken floor, are some of the themes Juhani Pallasmaa uses to describe Aalto’s architecture. They are all present in Vyborg, most of them for the first time. Other architects later took many of these up, but the fame for the library was short. Karelia soon became a warzone and the memories of the library vanished in lack of information. Despite this, traces of Vyborg can be seen in for example Karlskrona library in Sweden by architect Jan Wallinder from 1947-59 – a closed, high, overlit hall with lanterns dressed with bookshelves in two levels.

It is my profound wish that this book will raise the interest and concern for the building in Vyborg that has so much to tell us; About the history, but more important about an attitude to civic buildings in general. To preserve and maintain the library is not only a matter of heritage preservation, but also an appeal to the future. A future where people are respected as cultural beings. Children, readers, listeners, and flâneurs alike.

Stockholm, March 28, 2008

Rasmus Wærn