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T H E   S O V I E T   E R A

Foreword | The building entries today


The 1940s started ominously for Viipuri when the invading Soviet army managed to break down the Finnish defences in the Karelian Isthmus early in 1940 and reach the outskirts of the city before the signing of peace in March. The city had already suffered heavily under air and artillery bombardments, especially during the closing stages of war, and now it seemed that it was lost for good.

Despite the suffered damage and evidently "permanent" status of Viipuri as the newest city in the Soviet Union, little was done in the period of over a year to make major repairs. When the so-called Continuation War started and the Finnish army retook the city in August 1941, it was found that much of the rubble remained, with some even added: for example, the neo-Gothic Viipuri Cathedral (arch. Edward Dippel, 1892-1893), which had been only moderately damaged during the Winter War, had been totally torn down into a pile of brick rubble. A genuine loss, as one of the few stone-vaulted Gothic church ceilings in Finland was now gone. It was estimated that of all the downtown buildings, 62 per cent had been damaged beyond repair during the war.

Now, with the might of the German army behind them (or so it seemed at the time), the Finns started to make new plans for repairs as well as for rezoning destroyed city areas. Uno Ullberg, for example, made in 1941-1943 plans for the Old Town by rezoning an area for a group of apartment blocks, arranged according to the, at the time, popular Functionalistic principal of "light and air" as parallel longitudinal buildings.

As the Germans were suffering drawbacks and retreating in the eastern front, it was clear that the planning had to be curtailed for the time being. And when the defences on the Isthmus were penetrated and the city retaken again by the Russians, there was no way back. Although the Finnish independence was once more saved, Viipuri had changed hands for good.

(As indicated in some entries below, much of the material in different Viipuri institutions and museums was evacuated to Finland as the Russians advanced. Similarly, the ex-Karelians were moved to other parts of Finland, and although there were also conflicts when trying to relocate the refugees to the countryside, the recipient cities usually profited from the influx of the trading-minded merchant families. This way, cities like Lahti got a valuable economic boost that they would not have otherwise gained.)

The new owners ordered the occupied Karelian areas, a considerable area of Finland with much of its natural resources, to be emptied of its inhabitants; homeless people from the destroyed Belorussia were brought in as the new inhabitants of Karelia. Then the work of reconstruction (as well as new construction) had to get underway.

With virtually all of the western Soviet Union destroyed during the war against the Germans, and with only scant resources available for reconstruction (and even less for a newly-taken provincial city in the north, despite its official priority status, as also the "liberated" Eastern Europe took its portion of the Soviet rebuilding aid) there wasn't much that could be done immediately to repair non-vital, "low-priority" buildings.

Some of the design choices, especially for the restoration of the older buildings, were eccentric, if not plain wrong. Without the original plans (which were in most cases moved to Finland before the city's occupation) or with insufficient research info, some of the restoration work was done with whatever was available and what was seen as suitable. Only since the early 1970s have the restorers applied a more thoughtful approach to their work and also used the original research material as a basis for design work. The situation, with a lack of builders and funding and the colourful legislation and zoning, is still not even satisfactory.

Some of the buildings that had either survived the war or been repaired during the Continuation War have suffered also due to post-war decisions. The Countryside Congregation Church (originally the medieval church of the Dominican Order), for example, which had been repaired by the Finns from its ruined state, was gutted and de-roofed as the electric components factory it now housed suffered a fire in 1989. The remaining ruins are still unroofed.

With this background, the less than pristine state of the late-Classicist and Functionalist buildings in the city is well "understandable". With the near-collapse of the Russian economy, these, like many other dilapidated buildings, are likely to continue their plight if no foreign aid is materialized. It is a sorry fate for buildings that were built as symbols of the pride and stylistic modernity of a new nation.



Viipuri Art Museum and Drawing School (1930)
(Luzhskaya ulitsa 1)
Most of the art works were evacuated to Finland in 1940 and reside in the Lahti City Museum and the Hämeenlinna Art Museum.
The museum wing was damaged in fire in 1941 and left empty -- after the war the Drawing School wing was used as a dormitory for the shipyard workers.
In 1972 the building was converted to house offices (arch. Boris Sobolev). Also the eastern wing next to the art museum has been expanded in the modifications.
The gunpowder cellar houses nowadays a café.

Viipurin Panttilaitos Oy Building (1931)
(Vyborgskaya ulitsa 4)
The building has suffered badly from the years of negligence and is now completely empty inside.

Pietari-Paavali Congregational House (1932)
(Vyborgskaya ulitsa 21)
Was converted into dormitory use, since the mid-1980s in office use, housing a planning bureau.

Viipuri Provincial Archives (1933)
In 1944 only a portion of the documents in the building were evacuated to Finland (now archived in Mikkeli), with some left behind, some destroyed.
The building, with its well reserved interior, now houses Russian archives of the Leningrad region.

S.O.K. Flour Mill and Warehouse (1932)
(Ulitsa Morskaya Naberezhnaya 3)
The building was badly damaged during the Winter War but in repairs starting in 1942 could be made at least partly operational for the rest of the war.
Although the facade is generally in bad condition, the tower has been at least given a facelift by renewing its facade treatment.

Viipuri Bus Station (1932)
(Naberezhnaya 40-letija Komsomola 5)
Being damaged during the war, the repaired station was taken into use in 1959.

Viipuri Municipal Library (1935)
Served as a library until the end of the World War, after which it stood empty and abandoned until 1955.
Renovated and reopened in 1955-1961 as a library, it had undergone drastic changes. Partly that was because the Soviet authorities denied in 1958 the architects a permission to seek assistance from Finland where the construction documentation of the building now resided. Many features of the original were removed and differing design choices employed in "renovation". The building had at least escaped the fate of being transformed into a "politically correct" neo-Classistic temple -- accordingly with the official Soviet style. Nevertheless, the building continued to live under the threat of elements as maintenance was neglected.
In the early 1990s, international activity around the library intensified, and in 1992 two private organisations were founded in Finland to help funding and assisting in the renovation and relaying information to international parties interested in the project.
In 1997 it was found out that the original reinforced concrete used in the structures had been of uneven quality and had furthermore suffered during the years it stood empty and unheated after the war.
The "new" renovation and restoration to the original state has been going on for some time now:
- 1994-1995: the glass wall of the stairway completed
- 1997: the reading-room terrace on the east end completed
Also a 10 m² model of the original undulating auditorium ceiling has been installed to the room as a showcase.
The focus of the work is on repairing of roofs and the yet unrepaired and leaking drains. Also drying out of the surroundings of the building is under work.
The library has been renamed after its architect as the Alvar Aalto Library (having been in the meantime the namesake of Lenin's wife...).
The Alvar Aalto Foundation: images1 | images2

Savo-Karjalan Tukkuliike Oy Building (1937)
(Naberezhnaya 40-letija Komsomola 5)
Was damaged by fire during the war and in subsequent repairs altered -- for example, the division of strip windows as well as the set-back top floor facade have been altered.
Houses now a pram factory.

Viipuri Hospital Maternity and Womens' Wards (1937)
After the war served as a tuberculosis hospital and today it is an orthopaedic hospital.

Viipurin Keksi ja Rinkeli Oy Bakery (1937)
(Leningradskoye shosse 13)
Houses nowadays an army bakery.

Viipuri College of Commerce and Navigation (1938)
(Ulitsa Morskaya Naberezhnaya 5)
Is now in use of the Russian Frontier Guard and closed to the public.
The relief depicting Mercury next to the entrance was removed during the Soviet era.

Pohjoismaiden Yhdyspankki bank and apartment blocks (1938)
(Prospekt Lenina 20)
The bank building was used by the local museum of Vyborg until the 1970s. Now the bank building houses a -- bank.
The cinema has been replaced by the function of being one of city's houses of culture.

The info about the current state of buildings mainly from Viipuri: opas kaupunkiin by Neuvonen, Pöyhiä and Mustonen.






lo-go © e t dankwa 5 February 2000