If you’re wondering why I chose Scandinavia as my travel grant destination, the answer is quite simple. Alvar Aalto (1898 – 1978). Sure - I’m as enamored with Scandinavian modernism as the next architecture and design enthusiast and welcomed the opportunity to experience such classics in person. But, for me, the work of the Finnish modernist Alvar Aalto stands apart, elevated above a sea of imitations.
I first encountered Aalto through his furniture, having grown up typing on a computer that rested on an Aalto table and filling Aalto vases with flowers for holiday centerpieces. I have fond memories of researching Aalto objects during my MoMA internship and a lunch break adventure with my boss to the Artek sample sale in New York. Now, I am the proud owner of two chairs (the first in my small but mighty modern chair collection) and a set of glasses, not to mention a set of Ikea knock-off stools. In large part, my hands-on interactions with Aalto design has been limited to furniture and design objects out of necessity, as the architect built almost exclusively in Finland, with a handful of projects around Europe and just two in the U.S.
But you better believe I remember the Aalto lectures from my undergraduate days (thanks Sheila Crane!). The typical modern architecture survey gives a good, if brief introduction to his work, using the Paimio Sanatorium (on my itinerary for next week!), the Säynätsalo Town Hall (just saw today!), and Villa Mairea (sadly won’t make it to this trip) among others as a means of highlighting the Finn’s sensitivity to light, the peculiarities of a site, the surrounding environment (“nature”), and the vernacular building materials and techniques. Coupled with my love for Aalto design, I longed for the opportunity to experience the nuances of Aalto’s architecture IRL. And here I am - thanks CASVA!
As a result, Aalto’s work has defined my Finnish itinerary thus far and below are the buildings I saw in Helsinki. (Note – I’ve also seen lots of the furniture and design objects, in and out of museum settings, and will recap those soon.)
Aalto House - 1935-36
Studio Aalto, just down the road from the house. 1954-56
The studio, like the house, is of course outfitted exclusively with Aalto furniture, as well as prototypes, including a series of lamps seen hanging from the balcony and the plywood experiments hung on the wall.
Hall of Culture (Kulttuuritalo) - 1955-58
Finlandia Hall - 1962-71