written by:
September 9, 2009

International Style architect Alvar Aalto is undoubtedly Finland's best-known design export, and is often cited for his mastery of natural light. Less often discussed is his role as a designer of electric lighting—critical to the enjoyment of Finnish interior environments during the long dark winter months.

Like fishing lines dangling off a pier, in Aalto's expansive office various lighting experiments hang from a small mezzanine. The pendant designs were generally under consideration for large public buildings, and hung from this height Aalto and his staff
Like fishing lines dangling off a pier, in Aalto's expansive office various lighting experiments hang from a small mezzanine. The pendant designs were generally under consideration for large public buildings, and hung from this height Aalto and his staff could appreciate their appearance from a distance.
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Outside the atelier are cast bronze lights adapted from an interior design for Finland's National Pensions Institute (completed in 1956) finance department's conference room.
Outside the atelier are cast bronze lights adapted from an interior design for Finland's National Pensions Institute (completed in 1956) finance department's conference room.
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Aalto would often linger for discussion-filled afternoons in the Atelier's canteen. The A111 fixture (a variation of the A110 with brass tubing) was developed for Artek. In the company's prosaic naming methods "A" recognized that the design was by Alvar A
Aalto would often linger for discussion-filled afternoons in the Atelier's canteen. The A111 fixture (a variation of the A110 with brass tubing) was developed for Artek. In the company's prosaic naming methods "A" recognized that the design was by Alvar Aalto (his wife Aino's design were tagged AMA).
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The canteen also features large tensile pieces of canvas lit from behind—a design strategy Aalto later used to illuminate the music room of the Villa Kokkonen.
The canteen also features large tensile pieces of canvas lit from behind—a design strategy Aalto later used to illuminate the music room of the Villa Kokkonen.
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Upon ascending the stairs to the main work area visitors are greeted by a variation of the "Enkelinsiipi" (or Angel's Wing) design (A805) that is mounted on a flag pole-like base.
Upon ascending the stairs to the main work area visitors are greeted by a variation of the "Enkelinsiipi" (or Angel's Wing) design (A805) that is mounted on a flag pole-like base.
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The wall sconces in the studio are similar to desktop model A703. Aalto used his homes and studio to test design ideas before turning them into commercial designs.
The wall sconces in the studio are similar to desktop model A703. Aalto used his homes and studio to test design ideas before turning them into commercial designs.
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A multi-hued variation of the "Enkelinsiipi" (or Angel's Wing) design (A805). Aalto's use of color is more often limited to white, black, or the shades afforded by wood.
A multi-hued variation of the "Enkelinsiipi" (or Angel's Wing) design (A805). Aalto's use of color is more often limited to white, black, or the shades afforded by wood.
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Aalto's repetitive use of gradually-stepped concentric rings earned this fixture the name "Lattiavalaisin" (or Standard lamp). This is model A810.
Aalto's repetitive use of gradually-stepped concentric rings earned this fixture the name "Lattiavalaisin" (or Standard lamp). This is model A810.
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This pendant version of lamp A335 is made from white enamel. Other variations include an inner ring of brass—a detail often seen on Aalto's lighting.
This pendant version of lamp A335 is made from white enamel. Other variations include an inner ring of brass—a detail often seen on Aalto's lighting.
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A624 is a large scale lamp capped by a large parabolically-curved reflector.
A624 is a large scale lamp capped by a large parabolically-curved reflector.
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A623 is another of the prototypes hanging in Aalto's personal office.
A623 is another of the prototypes hanging in Aalto's personal office.
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A copper variation of ceiling fixture A622 casts a soft glow in the atelier's portico. A larger version of this fixture was used in the administrative floors of the Finance Department.
A copper variation of ceiling fixture A622 casts a soft glow in the atelier's portico. A larger version of this fixture was used in the administrative floors of the Finance Department.
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This wall fixture above the main staircase was developed for the National Pensions Institute (completed in 1956). The fixtures for that project were largely fabricated by Valaisintyö company. Aalto worked with the workshop's owner Viljo Hirvonen until the
This wall fixture above the main staircase was developed for the National Pensions Institute (completed in 1956). The fixtures for that project were largely fabricated by Valaisintyö company. Aalto worked with the workshop's owner Viljo Hirvonen until the desired results were achieved.
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Above the coffee table in Aalto's home hangs one of his most well known designs, A331, the "Beehive." The home at 20 Riihitie is now a museum.
Above the coffee table in Aalto's home hangs one of his most well known designs, A331, the "Beehive." The home at 20 Riihitie is now a museum.
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Another fixture developed for the National Pensions Institute found its way into Aalto's home to light the dining table. An oil painting by the architect hangs in the background.
Another fixture developed for the National Pensions Institute found its way into Aalto's home to light the dining table. An oil painting by the architect hangs in the background.
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A small sconce lights the entry.
A small sconce lights the entry.
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This light in an upstairs bedroom (A703) was originally developed in 1929. This is a later version sold through Artek.
This light in an upstairs bedroom (A703) was originally developed in 1929. This is a later version sold through Artek.
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In another of the bedrooms is an unusual variation of Aalto's famous "golden bell" fixture. The light was originally developed for Helsinki's Savoy Restaurant, which Aalto designed in 1937.
In another of the bedrooms is an unusual variation of Aalto's famous "golden bell" fixture. The light was originally developed for Helsinki's Savoy Restaurant, which Aalto designed in 1937.
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Standard Light A809, a floor lamp in the living area, features three ringed cones.
Standard Light A809, a floor lamp in the living area, features three ringed cones.
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This sconce lights the home's upper terrace. When it was completed in the summer of 1936 the house would have had extensive views of the nearby bay.
This sconce lights the home's upper terrace. When it was completed in the summer of 1936 the house would have had extensive views of the nearby bay.
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One of the few lights in Aalto's home not designed by the architect is this folded paper lamp that graces the living room piano. It was given to Aalto by Danish designer Poul Henningsen during World War II. At the time Henningson was living in Sweden and
One of the few lights in Aalto's home not designed by the architect is this folded paper lamp that graces the living room piano. It was given to Aalto by Danish designer Poul Henningsen during World War II. At the time Henningson was living in Sweden and didn't have access to his metalshop so he experimented in available materials like paper or cloth.
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Like fishing lines dangling off a pier, in Aalto's expansive office various lighting experiments hang from a small mezzanine. The pendant designs were generally under consideration for large public buildings, and hung from this height Aalto and his staff
Like fishing lines dangling off a pier, in Aalto's expansive office various lighting experiments hang from a small mezzanine. The pendant designs were generally under consideration for large public buildings, and hung from this height Aalto and his staff could appreciate their appearance from a distance.

Coming from an age when architects were responsible for not only designing buildings, but often everything within, Aalto designed hundreds of light fixtures over the course of his career—usually creating a custom fixture to lend each new project a distinct character. Many of these were adapted for the commercial market and sold through Artek, the company he founded with his first wife Aino. On a recent visit to his Atelier and private home in the Munkkiniemi neighborhood of Helsinki, we cataloged Aalto's various lights—many of which were experiments that would be adapted and later customized to work with a particular project. Click the yellow slideshow button in the upper right corner to see for yourself.

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