Alvar Aalto is a world-known Finnish architect, sculptor, artist, and furniture designer. While his best works in architecture were constructed in Finland, his fame in the U.S. came due to his furniture and glassware design. Two world-fairs contributed to his world-class reputation: Paris in 1937 and New York in 1939/1940. In 1938, the Museum of Modern Art in New York held an exhibition of Aalto’s work. It showcased his furniture designs and pictures of his buildings.

His ingenuity and experimentation with wood in furniture production led to several patencies in the 1930s. One of his designs was the Paimio chair which facilitates the breathing of Tuberculosis patients. The chair is purchased nowadays simply for its beautiful and modern appearance. Aalto’s designs are proof that beauty can accompany functionality.

Bent Wood Armchair 41 “Paimia” c. 1932. Photography: Daderot via Wikimedia Commons (cropped)

In 1935, he co-founded Artek Company for furniture with Maire Gullichsen who was one of his most important clients. Maire Gullichsen was the wife of Harry Gullichsen, a businessman and a collector of artworks. Aalto designed Villa Maire for the Gullichsens close to Noormarkku, Finland.

The designer changed his architectural style several times throughout his career that extended for over 50 years. His style ranged from classicism at his early beginnings to modernism and experimentation in his mid-career, and later to monumentalism.

He married twice. His first wife was Aino, who died in the 1940s, and his second was Elissa who outlived him. Both of his spouses were architects who collaborated with him in his line of work.

Check out our selection of Alvar Aalto’s well-known designs:

1) Town Hall, Seinäjoki, Finland

Grass Steps Lead to the Seinäjoki Town Hall. Photography: Kotivalo via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0) (cropped)

The town hall construction was completed in 1962. The porcelain blue tiles on the exterior as well as the grassy wide steps contribute to its modern appearance. The hall comes as a part of a complex designed by the architect that includes a church, a library, and several other amenities.

2) Church of the Assumption of Mary, Italy

Photography: Franco Di Capua

Aalto designed this church in the 1960s, during the peak of his experimentation phase. The church has huge arches inspired by ancient architecture and clerestory windows to let in plenty of daylight. The building was finished in 1978, after the designer had died in 1976.

3) Baker House, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

Photography: Gunnar Klack via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

This dormitory at MIT is Alto’s most prominent work on American soil. The undulations offered an optimum view for every resident and proper ventilation to the building. The architect solved the noise problem coming from the nearby busy streets. He designed the windows to be diagonally facing the traffic.

4)   Tuberculosis Sanatorium, Paimio, Finland

Tuberculosis Sanatorium Interior – Photography: Flickr user Leon (CC BY 2.0)

Healthcare architecture at its best is what we see here. The renowned architect created this design early in his career. The sanatorium is a facility for Tuberculosis victims to recover at from the debilitating disease. He took advice from doctors and nurses to design the hospital according to the special needs of the patients. The designer paid attention to details which were manifested in the rooms heating systems, the lighting, and furniture.

5)   Enso-Gutzeit HQ, Helsinki, Finland

Photography: I99pema via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Aalto designed the office building of the giant pulp and paper manufacturing company in contrast with its neighboring cathedral. As Finland is famous for wood and stone, he utilized both materials in the façade. He clad the frontage in Carrara marble and used wood-framed windows.

6)    Furniture Design

Tea Cart – Photography: Holger.Ellgaard via Wikimedia Commons

The world knows Alvar Aalto as the inventor of bent wood. His approach and designs greatly influenced other designers of the same era like the Eameses and Eero Saarinen. Many of his three and four-legged stools, in addition to tables, are sought by the public up to this day.

7)    Aalto Vase (Savoy Vase)

Alvar Aalto Collection Savoy Vase – Courtesy of Iittala

It was an iconic creation of Alvar and his wife Aino. The vase was a piece among many other items the designers produced for Savoy restaurant in Helsinki. Aalto designed the restaurant, which opened in 1937, and nearly everything else in it.










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