Hugo Alvar Henrik Aalto (born: 3 February 1898, Kuortane, died: 11 May 1976, Helsinki) was a Finnish architect and designer, known as the ‘Father of Modernism’ in Nordic countries. His work included architecture, furniture, textiles and glassware. Aalto’s early career runs parallel to the rapid economic growth and industrialisation of Finland during the first half of the twentieth century. Although a modern architect, his work exhibits a carefully crafted balance of intricate and complex forms, spaces and elements, revealing traditionalism rooted in the cultural heritage and physical environment of Finland. Over the course of his 50-year career, Alvar Aalto did not rely on modernisms fondness for industrialised processes as a compositional technique, but forged an architecture influenced by a broad spectrum of concerns.
Alvar Aalto’s architecture manifests an understanding of the psychological needs of modern society, the particular qualities of the Finnish environment. Historical, technical and cultural traditions of Scandinavian architecture have been his inspirations all throughout. Exemplary of the classicism found throughout Scandinavia during the 1920s, Alvar Aalto’s early work was influenced by contemporary Nordic practitioners such as Asplund and Ragnar Ostberg. The simple massing and ornamentation of the architettura mirwre of northern Italy also had lasting effect on him. His work evolved from the austere quality of the Railway Workers Housing (1923), to the more Palladian inspired Workers Club (1924–1925), both in Jyvaskyla and from there to the deftly refined and detailed Seinajoki Civil Guards Complex (1925). Composed of simple, well-proportioned volumes rendered in stucco or wood, these works are characterised by their sparse decoration and selective use of classical elements.
Aalto’s philosophies towards his architecture style changes from (Nordic Classicism) to purist International Style Modernism to a more personal, synthetic and idiosyncratic Modernism. His architecture evolved from the stripped classicism of the Agricultural Cooperative Building towards a full acceptance of the formal and theoretical canons of International Style modernism or ‘functionalism’ as it was termed in Finland. It underwent major transitions in mid-1930s when his work began to embody a more tactile, romantic and picturesque posture, becoming less machinelike in imagery. The presence of these characteristics in his work, coupled with a seemingly rekindled interest in Finnish vernacular building traditions and a concern for the alienated individual within modern mass society, signalled an architectural philosophy away from the functionalist tenets that formed his architecture in the early 1930s. In renouncing industrialised production as a compositional and formal ordering sensibility, Alvar Aalto moved toward a more personal style which solidified over the next decade, a direction achieving maturity in his work executed after World War II.
A Legend Remembered:
“God created paper for the purpose of drawing architecture on it. Everything else is at least for me an abuse of paper. “
“We should work for simple, good, undecorated things, 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.
“Building art is a synthesis of life in materialised form. We should try to bring in under the same hat, not a splintered way of thinking, but all in harmony together. “
“Nothing is as dangerous in architecture as dealing with separated problems. If we split life into separated problems we split the possibilities to make good building art. “
“Our time is so specialised that we have people who know more and more or less and less.”
“We have almost a city has probably two or three hundred committees. Every committee is dealing with just one problem and has nothing to do with the other problems.”
“We should concentrate our work not only to a separated housing problem but housing involved in our daily work and all the other functions of the city.”
His Impact — His projects:
Bell tower, Kauhajärvi, Finland, 1921 – 1923
Municipal hospital, Alajarvi, Finland, 1924 – 1928
Defence Corps Building, Jyvaskyla, Finland, 1926 – 1929
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, Zurich, 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