Hugo Alvar Henrik Aalto (1898-1976), better known simply as
, was a profilic architect
revered in his home country Finland
and known at
least by architecture
buffs outside it. (Being listed first in
any alphabetical index probably doesn't hurt.)
Aalto is remembered for his work on many of Finland's best
known public buildings, including Finlandia Hall and the
House of Culture in Helsinki, as well as much of the design of
the entire cities of Seinäjoki and Rovaniemi, and the Espoo campus of
his alma mater, the Helsinki University of Technology. Many of Aalto's
buildings are located outside Finland, including a student dormitory
at MIT, flats in Zürich, an art museum in Shiraz...
A proponent of Functionalism, most biographies wax eloquent about
his "expression of the organic relationship between man,
nature and buildings" or "a synthesis of life in materialized form",
drawing parallels to Frank Lloyd Wright --
but having had the dubious pleasure of completing my university
education nearly exclusively in Aalto's buildings I have to say that
I find him a bit overhyped.
Everything that Aalto touched during his 60-year career
has been effectively canonized, which is somewhat unfortunate as
many of his earlier works are, to be quite frank, concrete
monstrosities that aren't even funky enough to qualify as Brutalist.
Even Finlandia Hall, regarded by many as his masterpiece, looks fine
from the outside but its acoustics are terrible and the marble
covering it is totally unsuitable for the harsh Finnish climate, requiring
horrendously expensive resurfacing every few decades. (It would have
made far more sense to replace the marble with a durable material,
like white granite, but no -- how could we violate the artistic
legacy of the Great Aalto?)
More info: http://www.alvaraalto.fi/alvar/buildings/index.htm
Enough grumbling about architecture!
Aalto may have left even a bigger mark on furniture
few associate his name with it: those precisely crafted, stark,
often wooden chairs and tables now associated worldwide with "expensive
Scandinavian design" (and, in these days, IKEA) are largely
based on Aalto's legacy. The Artek company, founded by Aalto
with his wife and two colleagues, continues to market the originals.
They're pricy but durable and the styling is truly ageless -- the
table I'm typing this on was designed in 1933, and trendy dotcoms
are still snapping them up by the truckload.
More info: http://www.artek.fi
Aalto's unique Savoy Vase won a competition at the Paris World Fair in
1936 and is, by some reckonings, "perhaps the best recognized glass
object on the planet". The bowl and many dishes based on the same
idea are still marketed by Iittala in their Aalto line -- a pun,
since "aalto" means wave in Finnish and that's the way they
look -- and remain best-sellers year after year.
More info: http://www.iittala.fi/e/aalto/