Biography of Alvar Aalto

Biography of Alvar Aalto
Posted on 22-05-2022

Alvar Aalto

(Kuortane, 1898 - Helsinki, 1976) Finnish architect, one of the most important of the 20th century. He completed the education received in Finland with trips abroad. During the 1920s he was influenced by the great master of functionalism, Le Corbusier, and was himself a pioneer of this movement in Finland. He soon achieved international recognition, and from 1940 to 1949 he was a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, United States. In 1955 he entered the Finnish Academy.

Among Aalto's first works in Finland, we must mention the Paimio sanatorium (1933), the Viborg municipal library (1935), and the Finnish pavilions for the international exhibitions in Paris (1937) and New York (1939). In these works, as well as in the famous Villa Mairea in Norrmark (1939), Aalto used a traditional material in Finland, wood, achieving remarkable artistic results. In addition to building buildings, he also carried out municipal and regional projects, such as the residential and industrial complex of Sunila (1936-1939), on the outskirts of Kotka, with his factories and houses, or the urban project of Rovaniemi (1945). Among the last buildings, he built in Finland, was the Säynätsalo town hall (1952),

There are numerous examples of Aalto's style in Helsinki, the capital of Finland. Among them stand out the Cultural Center (1955-58), with its auditorium inspired by the seventeenth-century style, the Onäs Institute of Technology (1960-64), the Palace of the Book (1969), and the auditorium and the conference venue of Finland (1970-71). The Århus museum in Denmark is one of Aalto's contributions to the neighboring Nordic countries. Other notable works are the MIT student residence (1949), in Cambridge, a skyscraper in Hansaviertel (1957), in Berlin, the Wolfsburg Cultural Center (1959-62), in Germany, and the Baghdad Museum of Art ( 1958), in Iraq.

In Alvar Aalto's architecture, the use of basic geometric forms reveals the functionalist rationalism from which he started in his early works and which he never abandoned. However, the joint use of sinuous lines tends to break the orthogonality of the architectural box while accentuating the corporeal nature of the building, for whose composition there are no fixed formulas.

All this means that his works are impregnated with their own personality that distances them from functionalist standardization. For Aalto, architecture is a free game of volumes and shapes in movement; On clearly arranged geometric structures, he superimposes "soft" surfaces that reduce the rigidity of the whole and give it a more human spirit that is more in keeping with the forms of nature. The Paimio Tuberculosis Sanatorium (1929-1932) became a model of international hospital architecture for the way it integrates the landscape and for the shape of the open terraces, which allow the sun to enter the rooms.

The architectural resolution of the Viipuri Library (1927-1935) sums up Aalto's concerns. The building is divided into two blocks, one reserved for meeting and conference rooms, and the other for the library. The ceiling of the latter is pierced by fifty-seven circular skylights that allow perfect lighting without the walls being interrupted by windows, while the ceiling of the conference room is made up of thin wooden slats that take on undulating shapes to solve the acoustics of the venue while giving it a majestic and warm spectacularity.

In the MIT Senior Dormitory (1947-1948) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Aalto elegantly breaks the monotony of a continuous block of standardized rooms with the sinuous curvature of the façade facing the campus; on the opposite side, the prism is broken by superimposed steps and the addition of an external staircase. The constant stylistic searches, together with the accentuated spatial dynamism with which he deforms the large volumes and the use of natural materials are always combined in Aalto's architecture with the functionalist efficiency and structural rigor of glass and concrete.

Aalto also excelled in furniture design. He created a line of very light furniture made of laminated wood and distributed internationally through the interior design firm Artek, which he had founded in 1935 together with his wife Aino Aalto (1894-1949), also a furniture designer.


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