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Alvar Aalto Edit Profile

also known as Hugo Alvar Henrik Aalto

Architect , designer

Alvar Aalto was a great Finnish architect, city planner and furniture designer, who is considered as one of the foremost architects of the 20th century. His work adapted Finnish building traditions to modern European techniques and indigenous materials and to the specific function of the structure in boldly expressive style, which has come to be known as an “organic style” architecture.

Background

Hugo Alvar Henrik Aalto was born in Kuortane, Finland. His father, Johan Henrik Aalto, was a Finnish-speaking land-surveyor and his mother, Selma Matilda was a Swedish-speaking postmistress. Alvar was the eldest of their four children. When Aalto was 5 years old, the family moved to Alajärvi, and from there to Jyväskylä in Central Finland. His desire to become an architect was influenced by his father and his grandfather, who were a forest officer and technical inventor.

Education

When Alvar was five the family moved from Kuortane to Jyväskylä where there was a Finnish grammar school.

Aalto studied at the Jyväskylä Lyceum School, completing his basic education in 1916.

In 1916 Alvar Aalto enrolled to study architecture at the Helsinki University of Technology. During his years in the university he took private lessons in painting. He frequented artistic circles, where he got acquainted with other painters and sculptors. His teachers at the Helsinki University of Technology were Armas Lindgren, Usko Nyström and Carolus Lindberg. The national romantic ideals dating from the turn of the century were passed on by Lindgren, for whom an important aspect of architecture was the designer's artistic expression. For Aalto's teachers, architectural history and tradition constituted an integral part of the methodology of design.

Alvar Aalto built his first piece of architecture while still a student, a house for his parents. His studies were interrupted by the Finnish War of Liberation, in which he participated. Afterwards, he continued his education, graduating in 1921.

Career

After his graduation from the Technical Institute of Helsinki Alvar Aalto toured Europe and upon his return began practice in Jyväskylä, in central Finland as an art critic for the newspaper Italehti. Then he worked as an exhibition designer in Goeteborg, Sweden, in Tampere and in Turku, Finland.

From 1927 Aalto started to establish himself as the most advanced architect in Finland. He received commissions for three important buildings: the Turun Sanomat Building (newspaper office) in Turku, the tuberculosis sanatorium at Paimio, where he had also designed furniture, and the Municipal Library at Viipuri (now Vyborg, Russia).

The decade of the 1930 brought him worldwide recognition. Exhibition of his furniture at the London department store, Fortnum & Mason, was organized by the architectural critic Philip Morton Shand. As a result of the exhibition Ph.M. Shand and G. M. Boumphrey established FINMAR, a company dedicated to importing and selling Aalto-designed furniture in England. The Museum of Modern Art in New York City held an exhibition of his work, showing furniture that he had designed and photographs of his buildings.

The New York Museum of Modern Art had held an exhibition of the Aaltos' work in 1938, and in the same year he made the first trip to America. There he was appointed a research professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge. He returned to Finland due to the Winter War (November 1939-March 1940), between Finland and the Soviet Union. After the World War II Aalto headed the planning office set up to rebuild that country following the devastation of war.

In the 50's he immersed himself in his sculpting, be it with bronze, marble, or mixed media. This paid off as he produced an outstanding piece for the memorial of the Battle of Suomussalmi (1960), located on the battlefield.

The early 1960s and 1970s (up until his death in 1976) were marked by key works in Helsinki, in particular the huge town plan for the void in centre of Helsinki adjacent to Töölö Bay and the vast railway yards, and marked on the edges by significant buildings such as the National Museum and the main railway station, both by Eliel Saarinen.

Outside Finland, most of Aalto's works are in Germany, a country from which he was already receiving commissions in the 1950s. There are also buildings designed by his office in Estonia, France, Switzerland, Denmark, Bangladesh, Italy and Sweden.

Achievements

  • Alvar Aalto achieved an international reputation through his more than 200 buildings and projects, ranging from factories to churches, a number of them built outside Finland. He was identified with the so-called organic approach, or regional interpretation, of modern design. His style is regarded as both romantic and regional. He used complex forms and varied materials, acknowledged the character of the site, and gave attention to every detail of building. His manipulation of floor levels and use of natural materials, skylights, and irregular forms gave him recognition as one of the world's outstanding modern architects.

    Being a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he designed there the serpentine Baker House (1947-48). His major works included a number of striking civic buildings in Helsinki, the Maison Carré in Paris, a Finnish pavilions for two world's fairs (Paris, 1937; New York City, 1939-40) and the Wolfsburg Cultural Center in Germany. It has been estimated that during his entire career Aalto designed over 500 individual buildings, approximately 300 of which were built, the vast majority of which are in Finland.

    Aalto is often called a “father of modernism” in Northern Europe and regarded as first artist to master modern architecture in that region.

    Aalto's “High Stool” and “Stool E60” (manufactured by Artek) are currently used in Apple Stores across the world to serve as seating for customers. Finished in black lacquer, the stools are used to seat customers at the “Genius Bar” and also in other areas of the store at times when seating is required for a product workshop or special event.

    He was also the founder and chairman of Finland's first film society.

Works

  • book

  • building

    • Sunila pulp mill and housing area, Kotka, Finland

    • Villa Mairea (House for Maire and Harry Gullichsen) near Noormarkku, Finland

    • Defence Corps Building

    • Viipuri Municipal Library

    • Turun Sanomat newspaper offices

    • Paimio Sanatorium, Tuberculosis sanatorium and staff housing

    • Toppila paper mill in Oulu

    • Central University Hospital

    • Baker House

    • Church of the Three Crosses

    • Post and telegraph office

    • KUNSTEN Museum of Modern Art Aalborg

    • Institute of International Education

    • Finlandia Hall

    • Building for Västmanland-Dala nation

    • Library at the Mount Angel Abbey, St. Benedict, Salem

    • Nordic House

    • Essen opera house

  • chair

    • Paimio Chair

    • Three-legged stacking Stool 60

    • Four-legged Stool E60

    • Armchair 404 (a/k/a/ Zebra Tank Chair)

    • Armchair 406

  • furniture

    • wooden furniture

  • lamp

    • Floor lamp A805

    • Floor lamp A810

  • vase

    • Aalto Vase

Politics

Alvar Aalto had little interest in politics throughout his life. That however did not prevent him from siding with the White Army during the Russian and Finnish civil war, which he saw as defending of his homeland.

At the later stage of his life, Aalto’s works were often criticized by left-wing activists, who saw them as an opposition to their views about the arts. Although Aalto himself has never shown any signs of concern on that matter.

Views

For Aalto history was an important source of ideas and inspiration but no longer a methodological guideline. He was always prepared to replace buildings erected by previous generations with structures of his own. Aalto strongly represented the Western ideal of the architect – that of the enlightened autocrat whose task as a designer and the client's trusted partner is to direct the production of a built environment in its broadest sense and in all its aspects, from general plans to the details of interior design. In his case this task involved a firm belief that his own creations were functionally and aesthetically superior to those of his predecessors.

In his London speech in 1957 Alvar expressed his views on architecture. He said: “We should work for simple, good, undecorated things – things which are in harmony with the human being and organically suited to the little man in the street”.

Quotations: "God created paper for the purpose of drawing architecture on it. Everything else is at least for me an abuse of paper." Alvar Aalto, Sketches, 1978, 104.

"We should work for simple, good, undecorated things" and he continues, "but things which are in harmony with the human being and organically suited to the little man in the street." Alvar Aalto, speech in London 1957.

Membership

  • American Academy of Arts and Sciences , United States

    1957

  • Academy of Finland , Finland

  • Congrès International d'Architecture Moderne

    1926 - 1956

Personality

Despite being a combat veteran, Aalto was known for his anarchical, even anti-militaristic personality. He is often described as a bohemian, wit man with exuberant grim humor.

Aalto was sometimes determined to a degree where it could be called stubbornness, but his vivid mind and unique sense of humor usually helped him to leave a good impression on the others.

Quotes from others about the person

  • “Aalto's international reputation was sealed with his inclusion in the Sigfried Giedion's influential book on Modernist architecture “Space, Time and Architecture: The growth of a new tradition” (1949), where Aalto received more attention than any other Modernist architect, including Le Corbusier. In his analysis of Aalto, Giedion gave primacy to qualities that depart from direct functionality, such as mood, atmosphere, intensity of life and even national characteristics, declaring that “Finland is with Aalto wherever he goes”.

    Italian Marxist architecture historians Manfredo Tafuri and Francesco Dal Co were less enthusiastic however. They said: “historical significance has perhaps been rather exaggerated; with Aalto we are outside of the great themes that have made the course of contemporary architecture so dramatic. The qualities of his works have a meaning only as masterful distractions, not subject to reproduction outside the remote reality in which they have their roots”.”

Connections

father:
Johan Henrik Aalto - surveyor

He was a Finnish-speaking geographical surveyor, who ran an office in his own house. Because of his father's work as a geographical surveyor, Alvar Aalto had already as a child close contact to the Finish landscape and it's geographical analysis via drawing. When Alvar Aalto was about to leave home to study in Helsinki his father gave him a piece of advice: "Alvar, always be a gentleman."

mother:
Selma (Selly) Mathilda Hackstedt - postmistress

She was a Swedish-speaking postal clerk.

1-st wife:
Aino Maria Marsio - Finland - Architect
Aino Maria Marsio - 1-st wife of Alvar Aalto

On October 6 1924, he married his most important assistant, Aino Marsio, in 1924.Their honeymoon journey to Italy was Aalto's first trip there, though Aino had previously made a study trip there. Aino Aalto died of cancer in 1949. Aino and Alvar Aalto had 2 children.

daughter:
Johanna "Hanni" Alanen

born 1925

son:
Hamilkar Aalto

born 1928

2-nd wife:
Elissa Mäkiniemi - Architect
Elissa Mäkiniemi - 2-nd wife of Alvar Aalto

friend:
Sven Markelius - Sweden - Architect

He proposed Alvar Aalto to become a member of International Congresses of Modern Architecture (CIAM). Through the CIAM, Aalto became familiar with modernism's social platform in the fields of housing and urban planning.

References

  • Alvar Aalto: Second Nature Described by the architectural critic Sigfried Giedion as the "Magus of the North," Alvar Aalto (1898-1976) is the best-known Finnish architect of his generation and a leading proponent of a more human modernism. His buildings such as the Paimio Sanatorium (1933), the legendary Villa Mairea (1939) and the church of the Three Crosses in Vuoksenniska (1958), embody a masterful interplay of organic volumes, forms and materials. From door handles and lighting fixtures to built-in furniture, Aalto frequently designed complete interiors down to the smallest detail. With his plywood chairs, the master builder additionally became one of the most significant designers of the twentieth century. His Savoy Vase represents the quintessential qualities of Finnish and organic design. This richly illustrated book is the first in many years to offer a comprehensive and current overview of Aalto's oeuvre as an architect, designer and urban planner. Ten authors, including the renowned architectural historians Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen and Akos Moravanszky, and MoMA curator Pedro Gadanho, address central aspects of Aalto's work. Particular attention is paid to Aalto's dialogue with important artists of his day, including Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Jean Arp, Alexander Calder and Fernand Léger, as well as his interest in film, cinema and photography, whose influences on his work are examined here for the first time. The catalogue section presents numerous never-before-seen original drawings and architectural models from the archive of the Alvar Aalto Foundation. This perspective on Aalto is complemented with photographs by Armin Linke, who documented a number of Aalto's buildings anew especially for this publication. As these images demonstrate, Aalto's work is as current and inspiring today as it was at the time of its creation.
  • Aalto A covetable new study on the work of Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, one of the 20th-centuries most popular and accessible masters. Clear, concise and compact, it explores all his major works, including their environmental, cultural and social contexts.
  • Alvar Aalto Houses During the course of a career spanning more than fifty years, Finnish architect and designer Alvar Aalto (1898-1976) designed nearly one hundred single-family houses. Aalto, also known for his furniture and glassware, worked in a distinctive style that blended modernism and traditional vernacular architecture. Now available in paperback, Alvar Aalto Houses presents twenty-six of Aalto's innovative residences-from small summer homes and postwar standardized housing to large housing complexes for industrial commissions-built between the 1920s and the 1960s.
    2012
  • Alvar Aalto Internationally renowned as one of the major achievements of modern architecture, the work of Alvar Aalto (1898-1976) was deeply rooted in the culture and the landscape of his native Finland. A Grand Duchy of Russia until the revolution of 1917, the newly independent state promoted architecture as a means of establishing its identity as a social democracy, and in Aalto found an architect with the ambition and talents to meet the challenge. Throughout a long and fertile career his work embraced almost all the key public institutions - town halls, libraries, theatres, churches, universities and government departments - as well as social housing and private dwellings. He brought to buildings of every type and scale a profound concern for the physical and psychological needs of their individual users, as well as sensitivity to natural sites and materials and to the experimental qualities of architecture.
    1997
  • Aalto Modern grace: Lyrical forms from Finland   Alvar Aalto (1898–1976) made a unique modernist mark. Influenced by both the landscape and the political independence of his native Finland, he designed warm, curving, compassionate buildings, wholly set apart from the slick, mechanistic, geometric designs that characterized much contemporary European practice. Whether a church, a villa, a sauna, or a public library, Aalto's organic structures tended to replace plaster and steel with brick and wood, often incoporating undulating, wave-like forms, which would also appear in his chair, glassware, and lamp designs. An adherent to detail, Aalto insisted upon the humanity and societal role of architecture, stating: “Modern architecture does not mean using immature new materials; the main thing is to work with materials towards a more human line.” Many of his public buildings such as Säynätsalo Town Hall, the lecture theatre at Otaniemi Technical University, the Helsinki National Pensions Institute and the House of Culture, Helsinki may be seen as psychological as well as physical landmarks in the rebuilding of Finland after the ravages of war. This book brings together Aalto's key works to introduce the architect hailed as a champion of environmentally sound, progressive design, with a deep-rooted sense of home.   About the Series: Each book in TASCHEN’s Basic Architecture Series features: an introduction to the life and work of the architect the major works in chronological order information about the clients, architectural preconditions as well as construction problems and resolutions a list of all the selected works and a map indicating the locations of the best and most famous buildings approximately 120 illustrations (photographs, sketches, drafts and plans) Modern grace: Lyrical forms from Finland   Alvar Aalto (1898–1976) made a unique modernist mark. Influenced by both the landscape and the political independence of his native Finland, he designed warm, curving, compassionate buildings, wholly set apart from the slick, mechanistic, geometric designs that characterized much contemporary European practice. Whether a church, a villa, a sauna, or a public library, Aalto's organic structures tended to replace plaster and steel with brick and wood, often incoporating undulating, wave-like forms, which would also appear in his chair, glassware, and lamp designs. An adherent to detail, Aalto insisted upon the humanity and societal role of architecture, stating: “Modern architecture does not mean using immature new materials; the main thing is to work with materials towards a more human line.” Many of his public buildings such as Säynätsalo Town Hall, the lecture theatre at Otaniemi Technical University, the Helsinki National Pensions Institute and the House of Culture, Helsinki may be seen as psychological as well as physical landmarks in the rebuilding of Finland after the ravages of war. This book brings together Aalto's key works to introduce the architect hailed as a champion of environmentally sound, progressive design, with a deep-rooted sense of home.   About the Series: Each book in TASCHEN’s Basic Architecture Series features: an introduction to the life and work of the architect the major works in chronological order information about the clients, architectural preconditions as well as construction problems and resolutions a list of all the selected works and a map indicating the locations of the best and most famous buildings approximately 120 illustrations (photographs, sketches, drafts and plans) Alvar Aalto (1898–1976) made a unique modernist mark. Influenced by both the landscape and the political independence of his native Finland, he designed warm, curving, compassionate buildings, wholly set apart from the slick, mechanistic, geometric designs that characterized much contemporary European practice. Whether a church, a villa, a sauna, or a public library, Aalto's organic structures tended to replace plaster and steel with brick and wood, often incoporating undulating, wave-like forms, which would also appear in his chair, glassware, and lamp designs. An adherent to detail, Aalto insisted upon the humanity and societal role of architecture, stating: “Modern architecture does not mean using immature new materials; the main thing is to work with materials towards a more human line.” Many of his public buildings such as Säynätsalo Town Hall, the lecture theatre at Otaniemi Technical University, the Helsinki National Pensions Institute and the House of Culture, Helsinki may be seen as psychological as well as physical landmarks in the rebuilding of Finland after the ravages of war. This book brings together Aalto's key works to introduce the architect hailed as a champion of environmentally sound, progressive design, with a deep-rooted sense of home.   About the Series: Each book in TASCHEN’s Basic Architecture Series features: an introduction to the life and work of the architect the major works in chronological order information about the clients, architectural preconditions as well as construction problems and resolutions a list of all the selected works and a map indicating the locations of the best and most famous buildings approximately 120 illustrations (photographs, sketches, drafts and plans)
    2015
  • Alvar Aalto: The Mark of the Hand Showcasing the famed architect's creative accomplishments, this chronicle travels through a series of conversations with the members of Alvar Aalto's workshop that span a period of 50 years from 1944 to 1994. More than 60 projects are covered, discussing the full range of Aalto's craft and journeying far beyond the limited canon of buildings usually discussed in critiques of his work. Placing these projects in their own time and among the people and milieu that cultivated them, the study illustrates these structures not just as artifacts but as part of a dynamic—and often contentious—environment, demonstrating how the workshop itself formed an integral part of Aalto's achievements. Showcasing the famed architect's creative accomplishments, this chronicle travels through a series of conversations with the members of Alvar Aalto's workshop that span a period of 50 years from 1944 to 1994. More than 60 projects are covered, discussing the full range of Aalto's craft and journeying far beyond the limited canon of buildings usually discussed in critiques of his work. Placing these projects in their own time and among the people and milieu that cultivated them, the study illustrates these structures not just as artifacts but as part of a dynamic—and often contentious—environment, demonstrating how the workshop itself formed an integral part of Aalto's achievements.