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September 12, 2012

Alvar Aalto’s Finnish Pavilion for the Venice Biennale, originally designed as a temporary demountable structure, was built in 1956 and stayed solidly in a place for nearly 56 years until last year when a tree fell on the structure. This year, the structure was entirely dismantled, lovingly restored, and reassembled, by Gianni Talamini—a project that has awakened fresh attention to Aalto’s famed structure.

Restoration of the Finnish Pavilion by Alvar Aalto
Architect Gianni Talamini (in blue) with curator Juulia Kauste and exhibition designer Esa Vesmanen stand in front of the restored pavilion. As high-modern structures begin to age, architects around the world are now confronted with how to restore them. Fitting with the theme of this Biennale, preservation challenges encompass another “common ground” in the built environment. This project provides a model for how to retain the spirit of original structures while restoring their performance as a building. Photo by Patricia Parinejad.
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Restoration of the Finnish Pavilion by Alvar Aalto
Originally prefabricated in Finland and shipped for assembly to the Giardini—the gardens where the Biennale takes place—the lightweight wood-frame-and-panel structure was a built to capture light from above and bounce it indirectly onto the interior walls. Aalto designed the structure to be dismantled, stored, and reassembled as needed between exhibitions, or on other sites. According to the story, several of the parts were missing upon arrival and therefore the panels were fixed in place during its initial construction. As Aalto’s only building in Italy, this ephemeral structure became permanent and was regarded as a national treasure.
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Restoration of the Finnish Pavilion by Alvar Aalto
Here's the Giardini tree that fell on top of the pavilion in 2011. Photo by Ross Hamilton.
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Restoration of the Finnish Pavilion by Alvar Aalto
The structure was stripped down to the original wood surface, including the diagonal paneling that has previously always been covered with white fabric, revealing a trace of the building’s structural integrity and construction process. Photo by Gianni Talamini.
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Restoration of the Finnish Pavilion by Alvar Aalto
All of the panels that make up the enclosure were removed and painstakingly repaired. At the conclusion of the restoration project, the panels were made from a combination of the original wood from 1956 and new wood from 2012. Together, the materials create a beautiful new texture that reveals the processes of both the original building and its reinvented self. Photo by Gianni Talamini.
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Restoration of the Finnish Pavilion by Alvar Aalto
The exterior wall panels were carefully separated from the primary structure. Photo by Gianni Talamini.
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Restoration of the Finnish Pavilion by Alvar Aalto
Talamini paid attention to the subtlest details. The panels were sanded by hand, the roof structure was stripped of its paint, and the plywood roof panels were sandblasted, leaving the entire interior stripped bare of finish, revealing the natural raw wood. Photo by Gianni Talamini.
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A view of the finished ceiling. Photo by Gianni Talamini.
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Restoration of the Finnish Pavilion by Alvar Aalto
The floor of the building was polished to reveal the natural aggregate of the concrete. To indicate the line where fabric previously covered the natural wood paneling, Talamini used a light whitewash to ever so slightly change the color of the wood. Photo by Gianni Talamini.
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Restoration of the Finnish Pavilion by Alvar Aalto
This view of ceiling reveals the varying wood textures. Photo by Gianni Talamini.
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Restoration of the Finnish Pavilion by Alvar Aalto
The finished effect is like being inside of an instrument, where light is allowed to play off of the varying ages of wood. The pavilion has an entirely new life, yet remains honest to Aalto’s original construction. Photo by Patricia Parinejad.
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Restoration of the Finnish Pavilion by Alvar Aalto
The ten-week-long renovation wrapped up just before the Biennale’s opening on August 29. Aalto’s hand is still very much present in the restored building. Photo by Patricia Parinejad.
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Restoration of the Finnish Pavilion by Alvar Aalto
Architect Gianni Talamini (in blue) with curator Juulia Kauste and exhibition designer Esa Vesmanen stand in front of the restored pavilion. As high-modern structures begin to age, architects around the world are now confronted with how to restore them. Fitting with the theme of this Biennale, preservation challenges encompass another “common ground” in the built environment. This project provides a model for how to retain the spirit of original structures while restoring their performance as a building. Photo by Patricia Parinejad.
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