One of the great masters of this human modernism was Alvar Aalto. He’s been called ‘the father of modernism’ – whether he was the father, granddaddy or just the little-known half brother, he was hugely influential and an important part of Finland finding its identity post Civil and Second World Wars. You can tell how highly regarded he still is in Finland by the number of his buildings still standing, the chairs and glasswork still in production and the Aalto quotes used in design companies marketing, not to mention the Aalto-like vase illustration that forms the logo in the ‘Visit Finland’ identity.
I don’t really have a list to tick off, or heroes to worship, but Alvar Aalto comes close and it would be silly not to visit at least one of his buildings while in Finland. I’ve often pored over photos of Villa Mairea, so became as excited as a little boy in a sweetshop when I discovered that the house is open to the public. As the €20 guided tour is well over our usual budget for such things, I vowed not to buy coffee for two weeks. An easy challenge when Finnish coffee tastes like dishwater.
The house was better, so much better, than it seemed from the photos. The wonderful aroma of oiled timber and a recently used fireplace – things a photo just can’t provide. As no shoes (or hippy sandals) are allowed to be worn, the guide let me wander around in bare feet. The feeling of the tiled floors, the rugs, I’m inside an Aalto house, a wealthy family’s villa yet it feels like home. I wanted to move in. Dream on.
But what about the wonderful interior I hear you ask. It’s still a private house, so no inside photography please. There are a few interior shots on the internet if you want to get some idea of why I was in a happy place.
After the tour, I chatted to some Belgian architects, who were part of the tour group, about the house and all things design. They were very interesting and we got along well. I know we got along well because I didn’t get a beating after calling architects lazy compared with motorhome designers. One of the guys said I should look him up when we’re in Belgium. Maybe that is when I’ll get that beating.
On our way north, we stopped in Aalto’s home town of Jyväskylä (sounds something like “You-ves-kool-a”) to check out the Aalto designed Aalto museum. Aalto museum designed by Aalto? I know what it sounds like, but he was asked to. Would you turn down a job like that?
A classic from his ‘red brick’ period, the Jyväskylä University campus, was just around the corner. Well we’re here… S was very patient/bored at this stage, so decided to sit this one out with a good book. With strict instructions on time and other stuff (can’t remember), I skipped off to take photos of bricks.
Grass roof over bike racks incorporating walkways to other buildings. Shelter, footpaths and nature are one rather than treating them as separate design projects.
Even though I didn’t need to tick him off that non-existent list, I’m a very happy boy now I’ve seen, walked around and felt the door handles of some of Alvar Aalto’s work. Aalto was influenced by the shapes and materials of the Finnish forest. Strangely, now when I look at the forest, I see an Aalto building.