Alvar Aalto, one of Finland’s greatest architects, made modernist masterpieces with a human touch.
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Finlandia Hall (Helsinki, Finland: 1971)
This seaside concert hall is a centerpiece of the Finnish capital, boasting a towering auditorium and high roof (meant to improve acoustics), curving balconies and an exterior of white marble and black granite.
Finnish Pavilion at the 1939 World’s Fair (New York, USA: 1939)
It’s fitting that a man often called one of Finland’s greatest architects would cap his most successful decade of work with a structure that celebrated his country’s contributions to the world. Within the compact, four-story structure, photos of landscapes, people and products looked out over curvaceous, wood-slatted walls, a flowchart of Finnish industry capped off by airplane propellers spinning like fans from the ceiling.
Wolfsburg Cultural Center (Wolfsburg, Germany: 1962)
Wrapped in white and blue Carrarra marble, this public center has been called one of Aalto’s most important works in Germany, boasting a roof terrace that plays off the idea of a public square.
Muuratsalo Experimental House (Säynätsalo, Finland: 1953)
An island home that served as Aalto’s workspace and proving ground for decades, the L-shaped structure is in a clearing surrounded by boulders and stones are covered with moss, bilberry and lingonberry bushes. Aaltos played with and experimented with ceramics, solar heating and bricks (note the patchwork facade of different brick on the main structure).
Created for industrialist Harry Gullichsen and his wife Marie, this private residence fused organic and modern styles and stands as a masterpiece. Curved shapes mixed with a literal forest of wooden columns inside the rural home, creating a flowing environment and harmony between the interior and exterior.
(Credit: LeonL, creative commons)
Maison Louis Carre (Bazoches-sur-Guyonnes, France :1959)
Created for an acclaimed art dealer, this sloped home rises out of the hills, itself clad in the same sandstone used for a nearby cathedral. Curved wooden walls and a large window make for a light-filled interior, and the grand entrance boasts a large display wall for artwork.
(Credit: workflo, creative commons)
Baker House (Cambridge, USA: 1946)
As anyone who’s lived inside Aalto’s most famous structure in the U.S. can attest to, few architect’s have given so much thought to the aesthetic enjoyment of college students. This serpentine structure on the Charles River offers an elegant solution to the problem of maximizing the view for each resident, resulting in an array of room types.
Restaurant Savoy (Helsinki, Finland: 1937)
Talk about high-profile openings: Aalto’s discerning eye was responsible for the iconic look of this Finnish legend, from the birch veneers and club chairs to the iconic Savoy Vases. Fitting for the times, it boasted a state-of-the-art filtration system to pump out cigar smoke.
Paimio Sanatorium (Paimio, Finland: 1933)
Aalto designed this sanitorium for tuberculosis patients to be a “medical instrument,” a structure actively engaged in the healing process. Small touches, such as personal wash basins, glare-resistant interior paints and large balconies to soak up sunshine, came from his shrewd and empathetic observations (supposedly sick at the time himself, he realized that hospital rooms should have a “horizontal” layout, since patients would spend most of their time in bed). The furniture Alvar and his wife Aino created for the building can still be purchased through Artek.
(Credit: LeonL, creative commons)
Stephanuskirche (Wolfsburg, Germany: 1968)
Aalto’s Functionalist church exudes a very polished feel, with a block of white columns and gorgeous wooden sound reflectors, which hang from the ceiling, providing a quiet grace to the religious site.