Biography of Alvar Aalto (1898-1976)

Architect, urbanist, theorist, sculptor, designer and Finnish painter born on February 3, 1898 in Kuortane and died on May 11, 1976, in Helsinki. Son of the surveying Johan Henrik Aalto, his full name was Hugo Alvar Henrik.

The importance of Aalto for modern architecture lies in having synthesized the functionalism with the organic architecture and regional forms, to reach a very personal and individual international style in this way. As a sculptor, he/she is the first Finnish artist who created abstract works.

After its formation in the Jyväskylä Lyceum studied between 1916 and 1921 in the Department of architecture of the Polytechnic University of Helsinki with U. Nyström and A. Lindgren. He/She participated in 1917 in the war of independence of Finland, and obtained the diploma in architecture in 1921. That same year came for a short interval of time in the office of planning of the Göteborg fair, for later travel of vocational training with Finnish Fellows by several Scandinavian and Baltic countries.

Between 1923 and 1927 he/she had his own office in Jyväskylä, and in 1924 he/she married architect Aino Marsio (1894-1949), which undertook that same year a trip to the North of Italy. With her he/she collaborated and signed all their projects. Their daughter Johanna was born in 1925 and in 1927 opened its office in Turku, he/she held until 1933. From this period also data collaboration with E. Bryggman and Huttunen. In 1928 his son Hamilkar was born, and that same year he/she founded with other architects international modern architecture (CIAM) Congress, to which he/she belonged until 1966.

In 1933 he/she moved to Helsinki and again opened its own office. In 1935 he/she founded, together with Mairea Gullichsen, "Artek" furniture company, of which he/she was director until 1942. In the 1930s he/she also made several trips to the West and South of Europe; from this time dates his friendship with Calder, Léger, Brancusi, Arp . In 1937 Member correspondent of the RIBA from England and in 1939 was appointed Knight of the Legion of Honor of France. From 1938, he/she made several trips to the United States, and that same year opened the travelling exhibition of his work and gave lessons at Yale University (USA).

On the occasion of the world exhibition, in 1939 he/she traveled to New York to build the Finnish Pavilion, and used the following year to make a trip to the United States. In 1940 he/she received a contract for research into the problems of rebuilding (the project of city model "American Town") of the College of architects of the Institute of technology in Cambridge/Massachusetts. Between 1946 and 1948 he/she returned to Cambridge as a visiting professor.

In the course of the second world war it was mainly occupied in projects and trips that revolved around the problems of reconstruction. He/She gave lectures in Zurich (1941) and Amsterdam (1945), and took a trip with several Finnish architects to Germany in 1943.

In 1942 he/she began the Foundation of the Finnish Institute for Standardization of the architecture, and between 1943 and 1958 it assumed the Presidency of the Association of architects Finns, which carried out, mostly from 1951, numerous and frequent trips to Switzerland, Italy, France, Germany and United States. In 1951 he/she traveled also to Spain and Morocco, between 1954 and 1955 to Baghdad in 1962 to Russia and in 1963 to Mexico.

In 1952 he/she married the architect Elissa Mäkiniemi, with which he/she collaborated until his death, and two years later started the Foundation of the Finnish Museum of modern architecture. From 1955 he/she was a member of the Finnish Academy, of which he/she was President from 1963 to 1968, and after that date honorary member. He/She received numerous international distinctions after the World War II, including that of doctor honoris cause from Princeton University in 1947, of the University of Helsinki in 1949, of the University of Trondheim in 1960, of the Polytechnic University of Vienna in 1965 and the University of Jyväskylä in 1969. In 1958 he/she was appointed member of the Academy of the arts in Berlin, in 1963 member of the World Society of Arts and Sciences in 1975 Israel and honorary member of the Academy of fine arts in Venice, of the College of architects of Peru and of the Royal Academy in Scotland. Other awards received were the medal the Prince Eugen of Sweden, the cross of the Commander of the Dannebrogen of Denmark, the Gold Medal of the RIBA from England (1957), the Gold Medal of the SAFA Italy (1958), the Medal of gold of the American Institute of Architects (1958), the plate of the Freie Akademie der Künste in Hamburg, the Gold Medal of the city of Florence (1965)the great Commander of the Italian Award for merit, the Diploma of palm of gold from the merit of Luxembourg (1966), the Medal for merits in Sciences and arts of Germany (1969), the great Medal of the Academy of architects from France, the Gran Cruz de Faucon of Iceland and Finland's Tapiola Medal (1972).




Although as an architect Aalto does not belong to the first forerunners of modern architecture, if you want to count him among the pioneers of the next generation, who have contributed decisively in the development of rational functionalism to organic architecture. In its first stage, until 1927, Aalto is strongly influenced by the war of Finnish independence, making its architecture is characterized by General neoclassical national traits. But in the works of his teacher a. Lindgren and also in their own buildings, such as the exhibition hall of Tampere of 1922 and the home of the Jyvaskyla workers between 1923-y1925, these features are already impregnated prefuncionalistas trend in the direction of simplification and the accentuation of the forms.

The building of the agricultural cooperative of Turku, conceived between 1927 and 1928 as a classic hub that integrates simple and white space of the "Finnish Theatre", is a climax in the work of Aalto and, at the same time, a turning point towards functionalism spread by Le Corbusier and Gropius. The building for the newspaper Turun Sanomat of Turku, the Paimio Tuberculosis sanatorium and Viipuri parish library, created between 1927 and 1929, are masterpieces of functionalist architecture, which highlights the estereometricos architectural bodies, smooth and white facades, flat roofs and the accentuation of the windows. With these award-winning buildings Aalto, began his called "first term white", which will last more or less until the beginning of the second world war. He/She got the most important Finnish architect and associate their country with the architectural trends of Europe's architecture. The buildings of this period are characterized by a spirit and human action, and a variable disposition of space and lighting, using different levels, corrugated roofs and varied light, elements that are accompanied with wood being the traditional building material of Finland. Aalto special sensitivity to the use of wood next to his permanent search for integration in the most harmonious way possible in its buildings shows the eagerness of the architect to create a new and closer relationship between architecture and nature.

Major projects for industrial and urban spaces in Kauttua and Sunila (1935-37; build in Kauttua houses with terraces on the slopes mean a radical so far unknown at this time) are outstanding examples of organic planning, in which the functionalist architecture and nature are integrated.

This synthesis of nature and functionalism is manifested form increasingly stronger throughout the 1930s, accompanied by a joint richest in the constructive elements and a more varied facade structuring. The materials used are concrete, wood formwork, natural stone and brick without plaster. Features of this period works are the House of the same Aalto in Helsinki-Munkkiemi (1934-36), the Finnish Pavilion for the world exposition of Paris (1935-37) and the Villa Mairea in Noormarkku (1937-39). With the Finnish Pavilion (1937-39) for the exhibition world of New York (1939), Aalto abandoned the Cubist composition, to reach a new transition from outside to inside, through a dynamic and irregular implementation of architectural bodies and interiors. Already does not seek stability, the homogeneous effect and the uniform composition of the modern style, but an organic and flexible architecture able to participate (in his own words) with full force in the vital struggle of man. Gets, in this way, a diversification of orthogonal structural systems existing far above all in industrial architecture, to achieve a free planes, bodies, spaces and facades realization.

These new formulas prepared already in 1940 the road to a subjectivism in the functionalist architecture, which will be spread by Aalto's more intensely after the end of the world war. Following the (samples of organic architecture) works are infused with a planning method that turns out to be a creative act led by instinct, to which they are subject in surprising and almost irrational manner construction materials and functional factors. This is accompanied by a very refined sense for measures and ratios. It is no coincidence that Aalto was closer at this time to painting and sculpture, developing a working method in which the first spontaneous sketch is the starting point for the architectural project.

The massive use of the brick without plaster in the buildings of the first decade of the civil war, in which Aalto is dedicated especially to the rebuilding and the urban and regional planning (for example: flat of the Rovaniemi city of 1944/45, together with y. Lindegren, B. Saarnio and others;) Säynätsalo, 1942-46; Imatra, 1947-53; Helsinki Center, 1948), has made this creative time yours is called the "red period".

Other characteristic features of this stage are a compact, moved and sculptural structure of architectural bodies and more free integration in mountainous terrain (for example: M.T.I. student residence in Cambridge/Massachusetts, 1947/48;) Saynatsalo Town Hall, 1949-52), the use of facets of light, the spatial formation of wavy way, vertical ruptures and a colourful and structured diversification of the façade (for example: Aalto summer house in Muuratsalio, 1953, with bricks and ceramic plates).

In the constructions of the so-called"second white" Aalto from 1953, in which the white cobra again protagonism, all existing tendencies are reinforced. Architectural form orthogonal and organic bodies create very rich, tense and varied complex. Space vitalized by plastic shapes grow irrationally in all directions. A good example is the Church of Vuoksenniska (1956-59), with three integral spaces inside. The exterior of the buildings received an effect intensified in the composition of surfaces, in the articulation of the contours and the constructive structure through the combined use of materials of different colors, such as concrete, brick, wood, ceramic, porcelain, marble, natural stone, copper and slate.

The 1950s are the Summit of international recognition; Aalto received important commissions in many countries, and took them with a small team.

Although his late work is not free esteticismos, not you can accuse him of arbitrariness, triviality, or Mannerism, while in the subjectivity carried to the ends and the absolute lack of conventions the contradictions and limitations of his work are also.

The influence that Aalto had in the international evolution of the architecture was especially important during his lifetime. Being an individualist only subject to its own style is the reason why Aalto has not created school or a retinue of followers.

Sculpture and painting

His work of sculptor, designer and painter, despite being least striking, is initially heavily influenced by the architecture; in so far as it was independent of it got change schemes and develop formulas for architecture.

In its first stage of creator of forms, from 1927 until the second world war, Aalto is limited to works in wood. Motivated by commissions to furnish and decorate their buildings (for the first time in Paimio) created, around 1930, furniture made of layers of wood deformed by heating. Especially chairs (for example: Aalto Chair) would have a widespread around the world, particularly after the founding of the company "Artek" in 1935. Subsequently, took sketches for objects of everyday use, such as vases, lamps, jewelry, etc., also using the glass, fabric and even gold.

Influenced theoretically by the Finnish Yrjö Rhine thinker, he/she propagated the idea of artistic creation without practical end, and formally inspired by Leger, Calder and Arp, created from the early thirty reliefs and sculptures by abstracto-constructivista character, documenting the internal logic of the material wood. In 1946 he/she dedicated these so-called "sculptures of laboratory", that are the first signs of an abstract sculpture in Finland, in Zurich to Henry van de Velde, considered the great pioneer of architecture and (according to the words of Aalto) who dreamed of merging first wood. Metal and marble sculptures date mostly from the 1960s and are subordinated to the architectural reliefs.

Their small format in oil and watercolor paintings from 1945, reminiscent of landscape structures. They are very personal testimonies of their original creativity, which in comparison with his sculptures can only be linked indirectly with the architecture. Sculptures, paintings, sketches and studies of Aalto are for example in the Museum for the Finnish architecture and the Nordic Bank (relief with stylized representation of the southern coast of Finland, white and dark marble, 1962-64) and in the Auditorium maximum of the University Polytechnic (relief of wood and metal, 1966) Helsinki. Other signs are found in the Jyväskylä Museum Alvar Aalto, Nordic Popular Bank of Lathi (relief of wood, 1968), the Institute of international education in New York (relief of wood, 1963/64) and in Suomussalmi (monument to the war, 1960).

Made buildings

1918: Reform of the paternal House of Aalto in Alajärvi (Finland) 1921 / 1922: House of the Patriotic Association in Seinäjoki (Finland) 1923-1925: House of the workers in Jyväskylä (Finland) 1925: Post Office in Jyväskylä (Finland) 1927-29: home of the Patriotic Association in Jyväskylä (Finland) 1927-29: building of the agricultural cooperative with Finnish Theatre in Turku (Finland) 1927-30: building of the newspaper Turun Sanomat in Turku (Finland) 1927-35: Parish library at Viipuri (Finland) 1928-33: Sanatorium for Tuberculosis and development for employees in Paimio (Finland) 1929: decorative buildings for the feast of the 700th anniversary of Turuk (Finland) 1930 / 1931: Toppila/Oulu (Finland) 1934 pulp mill / 1936: Aalto in Helsinki-Munkkiemi (Finland) 1935's private house / 1939: manufactures pulp and urbanization of the company in Sunila/Finland (first stage of construction) 1937: Restaurant Savoy in Helsinki (Finland) 1937: Finnish Pavilion for the world exhibition in Paris (France) 1937 / 1939: Villa Mairea in Noormarku (Finland) 1937 / 1940: estate with houses of terrace in Kauttua (Finland) 1938 / 1939: factory of paper Anjala, urbanization and elementary school in Inkerkoinen (Finland) 1939: Finnish Pavilion for the World Exposition in New York (USA) 1944: project of rebuilding the city of Rovaniemi (Finland) 1947 / 1948: M.T.I. Mr Dormitory in Cambridge/mass. (USA) 1947 / 1953: urban project to Imatra (Finland) 1948: projects for the center of Helsinki (Finland) 1948 / 1956: State Center for the Popular Pension and housing for employees in Helsinki (Finland) 1949: general map of the Polytechnic University of Otaniemi/Helsinki (Finland) 1949 / 1952: Säynätsalo Town Hall (Finland) 1949 / 1954: Sports Centre of the Polytechnic University of Otaniemi/Helsinki (Finland) 1950 / 1957: Pedagogical University of Jyväskylä (Finland) 1951 / 1952: sulfate Tuppi OY (Finland) 1951 Oulo factory / 1954: factory of cellulose and urbanization of the company in Sunila/Finland (second phase of construction) 1952 / 1955: offices in Helsinki (Finland) 1952 Rautatalo House / 1959: project for the Centre of the city of Seinäjoki (Finland) 1953: in Muurtsalo (Finland) 1955 Aalto summer house: House and workshop of Aalto, at Munkkiniemi-Helsinki (Finland) 1955: Theatre and Auditorium of Oulo (Finland) 1955 / 1957: family house rent in the Hanseatic quarter of Berlin (Germany) 1955 / 1958: House of culture in Helsinki (Finland) 1955 / 1964 Central building of the Polytechnic University of Otaniemi/Helsinki (Finland) 1956: Finnish Pavilion for the Venice Biennale (Italy) 1956: flat overall of the University of Oulo (Finland) 1956 / 1959: Church of Vuoksenniska (near Imatra/Finland) 1956 / 1959: Villa Carre at Bazoches-sur-Guyonne (France) 1957 / 1961: Mall in Avesta (Sweden) 1957 / 1961: urbanization Korkalovaara, Rovaniemi (Finland) 1958 / 1960: Church of Seinäjoki (Finland) 1958 / 1962: housing Neue Vahr in Breme (Germany) 1958 / 1963: Cultural Centre of Wolfsburg (Germany) 1958 / 1972: Aalborg Art Museum (Finland) 1958 / 1979: Opera in Essen (Germany) 1959 / 1962: Enso-Gutzeit administrative building in Helsinki (Finland) 1959 / 1962: Central Museum of Finland in Jyväskylä (Finland) 1959 / 1962: parish Center of Wolfsburg (Germany) 1959 / 1964: projects for the center of Helsinki (Finland) 1960/61: shopping centre of Otaniemi/Helsinki (Finland) 1960 / 1963: thermal laboratory at the Polytechnic University of Otaniemi/Helsinki (Finland) 1961 / 1965: House of the Association student Västmanland-Dala, Uppsala (Sweden) 1961 / 1965: City of Seinäjoki (Finland) 1962 / 1963: Central heating of the Polytechnic University of Otaniemi/Helsinki (Finland) 1962 / 1964: Nordic Bank of Helsinki (Finland) 1962 / 1966: student residence of the Polytechnic University in Otaniemi/Helsinki (Finland) 1962 / 1968: Nordic House of Reyjjavik (Finland) 1962 / academic 1969:libreria in Helsinki (Finland) 1962 / 1971: Auditorium and Congress House in Helsinki (Finland) 1962 / 1975: Congress in Helsinki (Finland) 1963: drawing from the center of the city of Rovaniemi (Finland) 1963 / 1965: library of Seinäjoki (Finland) 1963 / 1965: Interior of the Institute of international education in New York (USA) 1963 / 1966: parish centre in Seinäjoki (Finland) 1963 / 1968: parish house and Bell Tower in Detmerode (Germany) 1964: administrative centre and Cultural Town Hall and theatre of Jyväskylä (Finland) 1964 / 1967: Bank Tammisaari Ekenäs (Finland) 1964 / 1969: Otaniemi/Helsinki (Finland) 1964 Polytechnic University Library / 1972: administrative home for the City Electric Corporation in Helsinki (Finland) 1965: Forestry Institute of the Polytechnic University of Otaniemi/Helsinki (Finland) 1965 / 1968: library of Rovaniemi (Finland) 1965 / 1968: skyscraper Schönbühl in Lucerne (Switzerland) 1965 / 1970: library of Benedictine College in Mount Angel (USA) 1966: Parish centre of Riola (near Bologna, Italy) 1966 / 1969: Town Hall of Alajärvi (Finland) 1966 / 1969: Villa Kokkonen in Järvenpää (Finland) 1967 / 1970: Institute of sports of the University of Jyväskylä (Finland) 1967 / 1970: Superior headquarters of police in Jyväskylä (Finland) 1968 / 1970: Villa Schildt in Tammisaari (Finland) 1969 / 1970: parish Center and theatre in Alajärvi (Finland) 1969 / 1971: water tank of the Polytechnic University of Otaniemi/Helsinki (Finland) 1970: Church in Lahti (Finland) 1971 / 1973: Museum Alvar Aalto of Jyväskylä (Finland) 1972 / 1975: Theatre and building of a radio station in Rovaniemi (Finland) 1976 / 1978: Cultural Centre of Rovaniemi (Finland)


AALTO, A. Alvar Aalto: works and projects. Barcelona, 1982.

AALTO, AT. The humanization of architecture. Barcelona, 1982.

BAIRD, J. Alvar Aalto. London, 1970.

BARUCKI, T. Alvar Aalto. Warsaw, 1978

CRESTI, C. Alvar Aalto. Florence, 1975.

DORPHYRIOS, D. (and others). Alvar Aalto. London, 1978

FLEIG, k. (ED). Alvar Aalto. L'Oeuvre complète, 3 Vols: Vol. I, Zurich, 1963; Vol. II, Zurich, 1971; Vol. III, Zürich, 1978.

FUTAGAWA, y. (et to the.). Alvar Aalto. Tokyo, 1968.

GIEDION, S. Space, Time and Architecture. Cambridge/Massachusetts, 1941.

GOZAK, A. P. Alvar Aalto, Moscow, 1976.

GUTHEIM, F. Alvar Aalto. London/New York, 1960.

HATJE, G. Lexikon der modernen Architektur. Munich/Zurich, 1963.

HOLLATZ, J. W. Das neue Essener Opernhaus. Essen, 1964.

LABO, G. Alvar Aalto, Milan, 1949.

MACKAY, D. Multiple family housing. London, 1977.

MOSSO, L. Nell´archittectura luce la di Alvar Aalto, Milan, 1961.

-: L´opera di Alvar Aalto. Milan, 1965

NEUENSCHWANDER, e. and C. Finnische Bauten, Atelier Alvar Aalto. Zurich, 1954.

-: Alvar Aalto and Finnish architects. London/New York, 1954.

PEARSON, p. D. Alvar Aalto and the international style. New York, 1978.

SALOKORPI, A. Finnische Architekten. Frankfurt, 1970.

SCHILDT, G. Alvar Aalto sculpturer. Southampton and Helsinki, 1967.

-: Finnische Bildhauerei. Francorft, 1970.

-: Alvar Aalto scetches. Cambridge/Massacchusets, 1978.

SCHILDT, g. / MOSSO, L. Alvar Aalto, Jyväskylä, 1962.

SHARP, D. Sources of modern architecture. To bibliography. London, 1967.

-: Alvar Aalto Synopsis, Basel, 1980.

WHITTIK, A. Encyclopaedia of urban planning. New York, 1974