A Young Photographer Captures the Sensuality of Alvar Aalto’s Work in Their Shared Finnish Hometown

When the pandemic drove Janne Tuunanen to return to Jyväskylä, he discovered a newfound appreciation for the legendary architect’s early projects.

Like many New Yorkers during the first wave of the pandemic, photographer Janne Tuunanen decided to take refuge closer to family. In April, he left the city and flew to his hometown of Jyväskylä, Finland. While adjusting to a slower-paced lifestyle, he picked up cycling and rode through the familiar streets, getting reacquainted with the early work of iconic architect and designer Alvar Aalto—another Jyväskylä native.

"I moved out in my late teens, so I didn’t really appreciate them that much then," says Tuunanen. "When I got back, I revisited those places I hadn’t seen in years and thought, ‘There might be material here for a bigger project,’ and that’s when I approached the Alvar Aalto Foundation."

While some of Alvar Aalto’s architectural work has been recently renovated, some buildings have retained their original structure—including the Jyväskylä City Theatre.

Aalto’s renown was cemented by his later works of industrial and architectural design, but his hometown boasts his early and often overlooked work. "I wanted to bring attention to Jyväskylä and photograph these locations from a different angle," explains Tuunanen. After the foundation approved his pitch, Tuunanen went on to capture 29 notable locations that embody the start of Aalto’s career. 

Aalto’s unique use of varying brick sizes can be seen in the Lozzi Campus Restaurant at the Jyväskylä University’s Campus.

The project turned out to be not only a retrospective of Aalto’s work, but a trip down memory lane for Tuunanen. "I grew up close to the university area and whenever I go back home, that’s one of the places I go to sit on the grass. It’s something that feels very home to me."

The university’s main building features Aalto’s irregular brickwork.

A wide staircase inside the university is flanked by brick and a slatted partition with a built-in bench.

 A sculptural, Aalto-designed street light outside the Museum of Central Finland.

The Lecture Room of the Museum of Central Finland features the architect’s characteristic use of bent wood.

On his tour, Tuunanen picked up on some notable details he had overlooked in his youth. "The Museum of Central Finland has a copper roof which is pretty spectacular when you actually see it, but it’s something you don’t notice when you pass the building," he says. 

Tuunanen reveals the designer’s reverence for functionality and materiality in this close-up of a stack of wooden chairs.

One of Aalto’s most popular designs, a "beehive" pendant light hangs outside the museum.

"[Aalto’s] use of bricks is amazing—it’s not a prime quality of brick, they’re different sizes, and not the kind people would normally use. It’s very unique. And he uses a lot of wood in different ways. Another building has a curved ceiling, and I was blown away when I walked into the room; it was unreal."

Aalto’s work was very much influenced from his travels throughout his career. Tuunanen notes that "[Aalto] went to Italy at some point and came back to Finland, and you can see the influence of that as well in [his] works," which include the Muurame church.

To photograph Aalto’s lakeside summer home, The Experimental House, Tuunanen traveled to the western shore of Muuratsalo island. This was his favorite excursion. "I got permission to go there by myself," he recalls. "It’s in the middle of the forest, by the lake, very peaceful, and it was nice soak up the atmosphere."

Intricate brickwork abounds at The Experimental House, the architect’s summer home.

The Experimental House overlooks the rocky shore of Lake Päijänne. Here, the wooden steps leading up to the dwelling are shown nestling among the boulders as though part of the landscape.

The Experimental House, designed after Aalto’s wife passed away in 1949, gave the architect an opportunity to experiment with different materials, forms, techniques, and proportions. The home encircles a courtyard walled with more than 50 types of brick.

Tuunanen’s quiet, thoughtfully framed images accentuate the materiality and undulating forms that dominate Aalto’s designs. "I felt like I could bring more depth," he says. "The photographs are pretty mundane, but I felt like I had a special relationship with [the work] and wanted to bring that sort of aesthetic out. That’s what I wanted to communicate."

A former Central Police Station.

The Jyväskylä City Swimming Hall.


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