Alvar Aalto

Alvar Aalto

Born: 1898 - Died: 1976

Alvar Aalto, Hugo Alvar Henrik Aalto, is the Finnish architect and designer who early became internationally known as one of modernism’s leading and very personal interpreters. He represented an organic architecture in his material position and its undulating and irregular shapes combined a functionalist and a regional kind of architecture.

He studied architecture at the Helsinki University of Technology from 1916 to 1921, and opened his first architectural office in 1923. The following year he married architect Aino Marsio, who later on occupied the role of his assistent in the process of design.

His international breakthrough was the sanatorium in Paimio near Turku (1929-33), which truly represented his interpretation of functionalism and regional architecture. Alvar Aalto introduced in the 1930s a new, regionally-based material compositions. The different textures and surface effects in the treated and untreated wood, polished and plastered brick, was one of the main themes of his buildings. Also, in the Villa Mairea at Pori (1937-39) he created open facades and the rooms’ rustic materials a smooth transition between inside and out.

The Finnish nature formed the basis for the undulating forms of construction and wooden structures in the Finnish pavilions for world exhibitions in Paris (1937) and New York (1939).

In Denmark, he designed North Jutland Art Museum in Aalborg (1969-73), together with the Danish architect, Jean-Jacques Baruël (1923-2010) and Finnish architect Elissa Mäkiniemi (1922-1994), his second wife, whom he married in 1952.

As a furniture designer, he worked initially with steel pipes, but he soon went over to wood, especially laminated wood that could bend and shape press. His stackable three-legged stool, Taburet 60 (Stool 60), which was developed in 1929-35 for the main library in Viborg, is still in production. Paimio chair from 1931-32 designed for the Tuberculosis Hospital in Paimio, is also a classic.

Aalto’s legendary glassware includes the world-famous Savoy vase (Aalto Vase) from 1936. His vase designs caused waves when Iittala presented the vases to the World Exhibition in Paris in 1937. Aalto had designed some floating organic undulating sketches on paper and given them the title of “Eskimo woman’s leather trousers”. Aalto’s idea was to make hand-blown and hand-cut vases in different sizes and colors based on the undulating form that Finnish nature had inspired him. The Aalto Vase is become one of the world’s most famous glass objects.

Alvar Aalto received many international honors, including the Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1957 and the Sonning Prize in 1962. He was president of the Academy of Finland 1963-68.


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