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What's the Time in Vyborg?: The Counter-Restoration of a Functionalist Monument


This article examines the collaborative art project What's the Time in Vyborg? initiated by Liisa Roberts as a critical response to the architectural restoration of Alvar Aalto's Vyborg (Viipuri) Library (1927-35) located in Vyborg, Russia. After the city was ceded by Finland to the Soviet Union in 1944, it became an object of nationalistic longing. This complicated history underpins the ongoing Finnish-led restoration of the library initiated in the early 1990s. Situating the art project with regard to Svetlana Boym's theories of restorative and reflective nostalgia, the article argues for the progressive potential of utopian nostalgia, an aestheticization of time and space that sutures the transformative passion of utopian longing to the powerful appeal of nostalgia. The project claims the architecture of the library as a space of utopian hope—a built form that constitutes a self-conscious myth of origin for rethinking the politics of space and memory in the contemporary city. Paradoxically, it affirms the nationalist mythology of Aalto, but redirects it against the restorative nostalgic impulses that would recreate the library in an image of completeness that it never had. Instead, it claims a utopian potential for the library in the present and future.