Alvar Aalto : architect biography

famous architect : Alvar Aalto [page1] [page2]

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Alvar Aalto architect
Alvar Aalto architect
Alvar Aalto architect
Alvar Aalto architect
Alvar Aalto architect

Alvar Aalto

The characteristics of this direction are manifest in the specific architectonic concerns, issues, and elements that form a continuity of thought and formal expression throughout the remainder of Alvar Aalto 's career. Centrality, as seen in the recurring presence of exterior courtyard spaces and courtlike interior atria, became an important organizational property in Alvar Aalto 's work.

The library at Viipuri and the 1937 Finnish pavilion in Paris incorporate an interior court, whereas the Villa Mairea is composed about an exterior courtyard. The conical skylights that illuminate the Viipuri reading room and the Paris Pavilion exhibition area provide a sense of externality to each space, and are precursors to the numerous forms Alvar Aalto developed to light his interior spaces. Within the Viipuri reading room court, Alvar Aalto includes staircases, landings, and handrails as dynamic elements celebrating human action and movement. The sinuous, undulating line and surface appear as important compositional elements in Alvar Aalto 's work at this time, as witnessed in the undulating ceiling of the Viipuri Library meeting room, the three-story flowing display wall in the 1939 Finnish Pavilion in New York, and the figural geometries in the Villa Mairea's plan order. Continually exploring the tectonic possibilities of the undulating surface, Alvar Aalto demonstrates a unique sensitivity to the dynamics of the sinuous element in architecture. Alvar Aalto 's material vocabulary changed at this time also, moving away from the machine aesthetics of the International Style toward a more expressive use of materials and textural effects. Wood, brick, and numerous other materials create a tactility and richness of expression that complements the formal changes in his work.

These changes exemplify the qualities and images that have become inextricably associated with perceptions of Alvar Aalto 's architecture. Furthermore, they exist at a multiplicity of scales of realization in his buildings. The undulating surface is not merely a form, spatial construct or building element, but is replicated at the detail level in his architecture and applied designs, seen in his glass vases furniture designs, door handles, and light fixtures, not to mention ,n his paintings and experimental sculptures. This recurrence of form at varying scales throughout Alvar Aalto 's work is representative of both the totality of the design conception found in his work and the importance of detail development in his buildings.

The problems of postwar reconstruction and rehousing following the 1939-1940 Russo-Finnish War consumed Alvar Aalto 's efforts in the early 1940s. An avid supporter of planned and systematic postwar rebuilding and redevelopment, Alvar Aalto felt Finland could provide a paradigm for the entire reconstruction of Europe. Both his work and writings of this period focused on the research and procedures necessary to develop appropriate housing types and planning systems for reconstruction properly. After the war, as a result of his friendship with William Wurster, Alvar Aalto was named an adjunct professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1946-1948; Alvar Aalto had held a similar post there in 1940). Alvar Aalto received the commission for the Baker House Dormitory at MIT (1946-1949), a work considered to be a preview of his postwar developments. Aino, his first wife and collaborator of 25 years, died of cancer in 1949. In 1953 Alvar Aalto remarried, to the architect Elissa Makiniemi.

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The time between 1945 and the early 1960s was incredibly productive for Alvar Aalto; he not only secured more commissions than any time in his career, but also produced his most important work. Often lauded as being uniquely Finnish in feeling, a quality characterized by the use of red brick, copper, and wood, the Saynatsalo Town Hall (1950-1952), the Jyvaskyla Teachers College (1953-1956), the Public Pensions Institute in Helsinki (1952-1956), the Rautatalo Office Building in Helsinki (1953-1955), the House of Culture in Helsinki (1955-1958), and the Technical Institute in Otaniemi (1956-1964) are exemplary of this period. The picturesque volumetric massing of these buildings, their responsiveness to landscape and site (be the context urban or rural), the juxtaposition of materials and textural effects, the rich vocabulary of forms developed to manipulate natural light, and the concern for the smallest detail (such as lighting fixtures, handrails, and door handles) demonstrate Alvar Aalto 's maturity. In these works the themes that emerged in the late 1930s matured and solidified, achieving a calm, self-assured realization.

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Centralization continues as a dominant theme in Alvar Aalto 's buildings. From the small courts in Alvar Aalto 's summer house at Muuratsalo (1953) and studio in Munkkiniemi (1955), to the plaza spaces in the Saynatsalo Town Hall and House of Culture, to the large agoralike void in the Teachers College, the exterior court orders and regulates these complexes. Similarly, the multileveled skylighted atria found in the Rautatalo Building, the Public Pensions Institute, and the main classroom building and library in the Teachers College create the feeling of being in a protected external space. The undulating surface appears with an infused vitality as large serpentine walls in the Baker House Dormitory and the House of Culture, whereas the competition entries for the Kongens Lyngby Cemetery (1951) and the Malm Funeral Chapel (1950) transform its usage into the fan-shaped plan that became the basis for a number of Alvar Aalto 's library, housing, and auditorium plans over the next two decades.

The last 20 years of Alvar Aalto 's practice, beginning with the Vuoksenniska Church (1956-1958), produced a more complex, expressive architecture. In contrast to the "bronze" imagery of the 1950s, Alvar Aalto returned to a material vocabulary, which created an architecture of bright, reflective, and smooth surfaces. Although (here is thematic continuity with his earlier work (light, sinuosity, centralization, and tactility still figure importantly in the designs), more explicit reference to classical and romantic ordering sensibilities emerge at this time. Going beyond the simple duality of pairing organic and geometrie elements, Alvar Aalto 's later works seem to fuse both classical restraint and romantic exuberance. The civic complex in Seinäjoki (1958-1965), the cultural center in Wolfsburg (1958-1963), Finlandia Hall (1962-1965), the Rovaniemi Library (1968), and the Riola Church in Italy (1966-1978), along with Vouksenniska, represent the best work of this period. The projects produced in the last decade of his practice indicate a slackening of creative power. The Alajärvi Town Hall (1969), the Lappia House in Rovaniemi (1975), the Alvar Aalto Museum in Jyvaskylä (1973), and the Lahti Church (1978), for example, suffer from reduced design participation and a general indifference toward detailed development by the aging Alvar Aalto.

Major works:

Bell tower, Kauhajärvi, Finland, 1921 - 1923
Municipal hospital, Alajärvi, Finland, 1924 - 1928
Defence Corps Building, Jyväskylä, Finland, 1926 - 1929
Töölö church, Helsinki, Finland, 1927
Viipuri library 1927
Turun Sanomat newspaper offices, Turku, Finland, 1928 - 1930
Tuberculosis sanatorium and staff housing, Paimio, Finland, 1928 - 1929
Central University Hospital, Zagreb, Croatia (former Yugoslavia), 1931
Municipal library, Vyborg, Russia, 1933 - 1935
Corso theatre, restaurant interior, Zürich, Switzerland, 1934
Finnish Pavilion, 1939 World's Fair, 1939
Baker House, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1947 - 1948
Helsinki University of Technology, Espoo, Finland, 1949 - 1966
House of Culture, Helsinki, Finland, 1952 - 1958
Town centre, Seinäjoki, Finland, 1958 - 1987
North Jutland Art Museum, Aalborg, Denmark, 1958 - 1972
Regional Library of Lapland, Rovaniemi, Finland, 1965
Finlandia Hall, Helsinki, Finland, 1962 - 1971
Building for Westmannia-Dalecarlia Nation, Uppsala, Sweden, 1963 - 1965
Central-Building of the Satellite-city "Neue Vahr", Bremen, Germany, 1962
Mount Angel Abbey Library, Mount Angel, Oregon, 1970


1. M. Quantrill, Alvar Aalto, A Critical Study, Schocken Books, New York, 1983, p. 130.

General References

K. Fleig, ed., Alvar Aalto, 3 Vols., Verlag fúr Architektur Artemis, Zurich, 1963, 1971, and 1978. The set of complete works on Alvar Aalto (Vols. 1 and 2 were reissued in 1983 and 1984, respectively).

B. Hoesli, ed., Alvar Aalto Synopsis: Painting, Architecture, Sculpture, Birkhauser, Basel, 1970 (2nd. ed., 1980).

F. Gutheim, Alvar Aalto, Braziller, New York, 1960.

W. C. Miller, Alvar Aalto: An Annotated Bibliography, Garland Publishers, New York, 1984.

L. Mosso, ¼Opera di Alvar Aalto, Edizioni di Communita, Milan.1965.

E. Neuenschwander and C. Neuenschwander, Finnish Buildings: Atelier Alvar Aalto, 1950-1951, Verlagfur Architektúr, Zurich. 1954.

J. Pallasmaa, ed., Alvar Aalto: Furniture. Museum of Finnish Architecture, Helsinki, 1984.

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