Finnish postage stamp of Alvar Aalto

Alvar Aalto

1898 - 1976

Designer of IIE's Edgar J. Kaufmann Conference Facility in New York

Alvar Aalto portrayed on a Finnish postage stamp in 1976.

Alvar Aalto was born on February 3, 1898 in Kuortane, Finland and died on May 11, 1976.

His name in itself means "wave" which later would come to life in his architecture. An architect, designer of cities, and furniture maker, Aalto’s international style rested on a distinctive blend of modernist refinement, indigenous materials, and personal expression in form and detail.

His regional and cultural architecture has come to be known as the Scandinavian style. His work included schools, libraries, churches, housing schemes, university plans, entire urban layouts, glassware and plywood furniture.

Aalto's preliminary plans were freely sketched without the use of tools so that the unfettered creative urge for inventive shapes and irregular forms was allowed full play before functional relationships and details were resolved. His use of complex forms and varied materials, acknowledged the character of the site, and gave attention to every detail of the building. The volumes of space created through clustered overlapping of forms were articulated with windows, and introduced views, and motion through curved surfaces. These curved forms often used by Aalto were, he thought, related to the anthropomorphic forms; he was always concerned with the human factor. The curved forms also allowed for varied views along their paths. Natural materials such as wood, brick, stone, copper, and marble were used and were always articulated with natural lighting.

Aalto's style was contextual and vernacular, he was very sensitive to contours of the land, angles and direction of the sunlight. He was very conscious of the need for social settings linked directly to natural surroundings with the use of natural landscape. They achieved this through natural living conditions, the use of natural materials, and integration within the boundaries of landscape and vegetation. Nature, sun, trees, and air all served as functions in creating a harmonious balance between natural and artificial.

In contradiction of Le Corbusier, Aalto said, "Nature not the machine should serve as the model for architecture." This was very much in compliance with the thoughts of Frank Lloyd Wright. He also remarked, "Architecture cannot disengage itself from natural and human factors; on the contrary it must never do so. Its function is to bring nature ever closer to us." Aalto's massive monumental designs both rich in surface textures and traditional materials were showcased with his control of flowing spaces, natural light, sureness of volume and combined with a great attention to detail.

He has influenced many through an international style that he so adorned. As he once said, "nothing is ever reborn, but it never completely disappears either, everything that has ever been emerges in a new form." His belief that buildings should be individual solutions to a given set of problems became the driving force of his architecture, a belief that has become internationally recognized and accepted.

Major Works

1929: Sanatorium Paimio, Finland
1930: Municipal Library Viipuri
1937: Terrace House Kuatya
1938: Villa Mairea Gullichsen Noormarkku, Finland
1939: Finnish Pavilion NY World’s Fair
1947: Baker House Dormitory MIT Cambridge, MA
1949: Helsinki University of Technology Espou, Finland
1956: Church of Vuokseniska Imatra, Finland 1958 Art Museum Aalborg, Denmark
1958: House of Louis Carre Bazches-sur-Guonne, France
1959: Community Centre Wolfburg, Germany
1962: Community Centre Seiajoki, Finland
1964: Edgar J. Kaufman Conference Rooms Institute International NY
1967: Mount Angel Abbey Library Salem, OR
1971: Finlandia Hall Helsinki
1973: Taidemuseo Alvar Aalto Museum Jyvaskyla, Finland

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