It has been, while working at AB (Ljubljana based architectural office) during my architectural study, that I have come across Alvar Aalto’s opus for the first time.
We have been working on some competition project and I have used every minute, I was able to spare, to browse thru enormous pile of architectural books our mentor and employer – architect Janez Lajovic, kept in his studio. It has been during one of those breaks, away from the drawing desk, that I come across the thin booklet of Alvar Aalto works. I have to admit, that I have not been throughout impreseed by (all) his works. But nevertheless something about his buildings have drawn my attention. At the time, I was not sure what it was. But from today’s point of view, I’d say it has been a kind of simplicity – not a Mies-vad-der-Rohe-like simplicity but some other special kind – Aalto’s simplicity, I must have been attracted to. His choice of the usage of natural materials. A feeling for volume composition as well as his attention for the detail. His effort not to complicate things, expressed thru his imperfections which – ironicaly – made his buildings even more perfect… it must have been all that combined that arouse the attention of a young architect-to-be.
From that time, I have always kept an eye open for the opportunity to go and see his opus first-hand. And finaly, almost a quarter of the century and after many money / time / famil / work / … obstacles, the opportunity presented itself this summer in a form of Alvar Aalto Symposium (maybe more about the event itself in some other blog post).
Town Hall in Säynätsalo
We (Alenka and me) opted to bike 40 km from Jyväskylä to Aalto’s Experimental House on Muuratsalo island. And since we have had some time to spare before a group tour, we stopped at Säynätsalo first to visit a Town Hall designed by Aalto (built in 1953).
Beautiful volume composition. Red brick cladding proves to give the building a sense of modesty as well as creates a pleasant contrast to the natural surrounding.
Beautiful and tranquil open and publicly accessible courtyard and side-placed main entrance does not communicate that the building and its occupants are governing the town but rather serve it.
Modest, brick cladded hall, beautifully lighted by natural as well as artificial lightning.
Delicate wooden patchwork on the elevated window of the main hall, acts almost as a textile and provides a soft lightning throughout the space. One could not miss another typical alto’s detail – top down light at the back of the hall in order to provide light for back seats as well while not making the main space to big from inside as well as acquiring a perfect exterior composition of volumes from the outside. This particular lightning also proves to be an example, how Aalto managed to derive multiple benefits from one solution.
Aalto’s Experimental House on Muuratsalo island
Due to my poor trip planning, we almost missed the opportunity to visit Aalto’s Experimental House. Fortunately, my charm (or persistence 😉 worked and girls at Alvar Aalto Museum at Jyväskylä agreed to form additional group for us.
Beside the famous boat, the smoke sauna is the first object one encounters on a way to the Experimental House. Still in use today by Aalto’s family, this plain simple object, designed by Aalto himself and placed about 90 meters (300 feet) away from the main building in the midst of the woods, is hardly something one anticipates to see on his way to the one of the most well know buildings of the one of the most renown world architects. Only after giving it another thought it becomes clear that it is only logical; why to complicate things which are not complicated. Typical Aalto.
Approach to the Experimental House (from smoke sauna). The house itself blends with the environment to the point of being almost invisible. Only by approaching it, it starts to reveal itself.
Modest main entrance and simplified steps – another trademarks of Aalto.
The courtyard with an in-ground fireplace pit. Different experimental brick patterns – some layer by Aalto himself – add a distinct look & feel to this place. Being surrounded by the beautiful landscape, one wonders why Aalto choose to detach the occupants from all that beauty by enclose the courtyard allowing only two strictly moderated vistas. It took me a while to realize that the answer hides in the question itself. And by reaching that understanding, I finally understood one of the houses by Richard Leplastriere (one of the tutors at GMMC) presented to us at Glenn Murcutt Masterclass.
A surprise! A top down view review a fake brick tiling roof.
Alvar Aalto Studio in Helsinki
Two days later, we were peddling again. This time our destination has been a Helsinki outskirts, where Aalto’s House and Studio are located closely to each other. Without any planning, we have timed our arrival perfectly in order to join the only tour around the Alvar Aalto studio that day. Lucky us 🙂
Studio – beautifully designed building in the midst of the residential area. If I ever opt to expand my architectural practice, Aalto’s Studio in Helsinki would serve me as a role model of a working environment.
Main drawing room with its open space is today partly a museum but mostly still in use by Alvar Aalto Museum staff.
Aalto’s personal office form the back wall of the outer amphitheater. Two stories high (like in Experimental house as well as in his Helsinki House) features a balcony to observe the 3D models from the top and test the lamp prototype designes.
Stairs detail in Aalto’s personal office – by observing the whole composition of the place, one could tell that he just felt they should be shaped like this.
Top-down backlight again (like in the Town Hall) – this time to lit the exhibited plans in the meeting room.
Blueprints storage shelves form the pre hard drive / DVD era.
Innovative ceiling lightning that lights the place with warm soft diffuse light. No doubt it has been this lights that inspired Miguel Angel Ciganda to design his beautiful Veroca light.
As a big fan of the cinema, Aalto designate the courtyard of his Studio as an multifunctional natural amphitheater.
Alvar Aalto’s House in Helsinki
And yet another home… his own again … in Helsinki, in close vicinity of his Studio.
Modest main entrance and simplified steps… sounds familiar?
Aalto’s affection for corner windows is expressed also on this house where it it in a function to provide a light for his studio. Behind that window, Aalto’s drawing board is placed.
Dynamic, but always meaningful, volume composition is also present here, additionally emphasized by the usage of different materials and plants.
Being amidst the other houses, garden is more open in this case and closed courtyard concept abandoned. Nevertheless, the terrace on the first floor provides an intimate place for the house residents. Pay attention to the shape of the flower pots… looks familiar?
Neglected, worn off wooden facade or a facade that age gracefully. I’d opt for the later – but hey! … that’s only me.Matej Gašperič