After a solid week in Helsinki, my Aalto tour took me north to Jyväskylä, a city in Central Finland. Not only did Aalto grow up in the region, but after completing his studies in Helsinki, he also set up his first studio in the city. As a result, the city and surrounding region are home to a collection of Aalto buildings that span his career.
If I had to give Jyvaskyla an American counterpart, it would be Charlottesville. Like my own hometown, the small city is dominated by the presence of a large university designed by a famous architect and surrounded by a stunning landscape. Oh and brick abounds! Nothing like an abundance of brick to make me feel like I’m back in the land of Jefferson.
Other main attractions in downtown Jyvaskyla include the Alvar Aalto Museum and the Museum of Central Finland, both design by – you guessed it! Aalto.
But I made the journey to the Finnish Lakeland for two landmarks in Aalto’s oeuvre – the Säynätsalo Town Hall and his Murratsalo Experimental House.
Säynätsalo Town Hall, 1949-51
Built into the wooded hillside of the island municipality of Säynätsalo, Aalto’s design merged Finnish vernacular architecture with a nod to the classicism of Italian Renaissance that provided endless inspiration for Aalto after his honeymoon in Italy.
The iconic grass terraces!
Muuratsalo Experimental House, c. 1952
While the Säynätsalo Town Hall was under construction, Aalto and his second wife Elissa discovered the small island of Muuratsalo in the Päijänne Lake.
On the grounds of his summer retreat, Aalto built a house, a woodshed, a sauna, and a boat-house. The L-shaped main building of the house encloses an internal courtyard, which functioned both as the central living and entertaining space and as a laboratory for Aalto’s experimentations – hence the name “Experimental House.”
As is evident from the courtyard, Aalto experimented continuously, with a variety of different forms and materials. On the walls of the courtyard, he played with ceramic materials, types of brick pointing and sizes. He also tested the effects on different surfaces, experimenting with finishing techniques, from brick to stone to the effect and durability of decorative plants and mosses.