Hugo Alvar Henrik Aalto was a Finnish architect internationally renowned for his striking fusion of personal expression, indigenous materials, and modern sophistication. Indeed, today it is quite possible to have seen a piece of furniture that is distinctly Alvar Aalto even without knowing his name. A graduate of the Helsinki University of Technology (HUT), one look at his many irregularly-shaped buildings and furniture reveals a quirky personality, a playful mind, and a fondness for the natural. To know more about Aalto, here are some facts:
1. Aalto displayed talent in architecture at a young age.
- His parents’ house at Alajärvi was his first architectural piece, done when he was still a student at HUT.
- His first independent piece was finished at the Industrial Exhibition in Tampere in 1922, when he was 24.
2. Aalto’s first architectural office was opened in 1923.
- The office’s name was “Alvar Aalto, Architect and Monumental Artist.”
- He increased his office’s popularity by designing many single-family homes in Jyväskylä.
3. Aalto was inspired by the country of Italy.
- He first went there as a student during a trip around Europe in 1920.
- However, he would not be influenced for by Italian and Mediterranean culture for the rest of his life until a honeymoon trip there with his first wife and collaborator, Aino Marsio.
4. Aalto’s career was marked by four phases: classicism, functionalism, experimentation, and monumentalism.
- Classicism and functionalism came early in his career. In particular, Nordic Classicism is evident in the many single-family homes in Jyväskylä. The shift to functionalism came when he changed a classically designed contest entry into a high modernist building. The functionalist aesthetic is best evidenced in the Viipuri Library; the high modernist sensibility was softened by wavy lines and warmed by the use of wood.
- Experimentation marked the buildings he designed in the middle of his career, while monumentalism was what he focused on from the maturity of his career until his death. During his experimentalist period, he designed and furnished the Paimio Sanatorium for tuberculosis (1929-1932). In the maturity of his career, he designed more and more buildings abroad, such as an art museum in Iran and a church in Italy.
5. Aalto was successful and celebrated during his lifetime.
- In his long career, he designed over 500 buildings in total.
- The New York Museum of Modern Art ran an exhibition featuring photographs of his buildings and select pieces of the furniture he designed.
6. Aalto is the recipient of many awards and honorary doctorates and memberships.
- Among them number the 1957 Royal Gold Medal for Architecture from the Royal Institute of British Architects and the 1954 Prince Eugen Medal.
- He was also president of the Academy of Finland from 1963 to 1968.
All in all, Alvar Aalto’s work is considered the embodiment and expression of the primitive, lyrical spirit of Finland. He is also credited with being one of the people who introduced knowledge of modern art to the Finnish people. With so many legacies left behind, his genius will surely live on.