Monday, August 15, 2005

Alvar Aalto

I'm a sucker for architecture. I always check the buildings first when I enter a new town, city or village. I go for the functionalism of the thirties, but can settle for the fifties' neo-functionalism and seventies' concrete brutalism. I also like the 19th century classicism (Carl Ludvig Engel!) and Jugend of the early 20th century. (Architecture is also the only hobby I have that I haven't yet made into a work, even though I've written some short pieces on it.)

When we went to visit Jari at Hankasalmi, our goal was to see lots of Alvar Aalto's buildings. Alvar Aalto has been credited as being the biggest Finnish architect, but also as being the worst Finnish architect. I think he's great, but he has produced lots of mediocre buildings, and I'm willing to admit that he didn't always pay enough attention to details, for example toilets.

The surroundings of Jyväskylä, the biggest city near Hankasalmi, have many Aalto buildings, and it was originally Jari's idea that he makes us a nice Aalto tour - for a wedding present! We were married three years ago, and now we finally found time to do the trip.

First we checked the municipal house at Säynätsalo, which is now part of Jyväskylä. Built in the late fourties and early fifties, it was one of the most charming houses I've ever seen, full of light and warmth. Especially the council room was very beautiful - almost a sacral place, vast, but also intimate. The light was warm and there was no way Sun could shine into your eyes during a meeting. I heard someone complaining about no windows, but I didn't understand what the point was. If there's enough light, you don't need extra windows. Based solely on this one building, I don't see how anyone can claim that Aalto was a bad architect. It's just the typical Finnish jealousy and hate towards those who claim fame.

Then we went to the near-by experimental house of Muuratsalo. It was a summer cottage Aalto made for himself and his family. Very interesting idea of the inner yard that is open to the outer world, a room without a ceiling, yet totally safe from the winds. The site at the lake was striking. Aalto made experiments with different types of bricks here, which produce nice graphic works of art. I liked immensely the sauna (savusauna, i.e. the sauna is warmed thoroughly and you bathe in the afterglow) Aalto had designed.

Then we went to the downtown, Jyväskylä. There are many bits of Aalto's premature works from the twenties in Jyväskylä and some are not open to public, which is a shame. We also saw his police station, which seems pretty mediocre, at least from the outside, and Viitatorni, which is a big 12-story building. I liked it, but I don't think anyone else in the car did. (I didn't ask Kauto, though.)

We drove around the university, but didn't go inside. Many of the buildings looked interesting, though. The Aalto museum he designed himself was great inside, even though the doors were not very inviting. Exciting to see a public building, though, that seems very intimate from the outside.

Then we headed for the Muurame church. It's early Aalto, from the late twenties, but it's been drastically changed. Aalto's idea was that the floor, ceiling and benches are black and the walls are gray. Now it's white all over and the benches are goddamn birch! It seems sterile and not very interesting. The guide - pretty girl, maybe just over 19, but not very knowledgeable about these matters - was proud of the white church ("full of light"), but Alvar Aalto museum's opinion was made clear: "the original designs were lost during the seventies renovation". The most depressing thing, though, was to notice that Aalto's idea of space that's both public and open was now used to keep the (plastic) trash bin from the rain!

So, a worthy trip, all in all. I think we must some time go back to check some of the buildings with better time, such as the university and the Workers' House.

I'll put some of my own pictures of the buildings here as well.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hi from Finland Jyväskylä,

A friend of mine bought an old storage with full of all kinds of stuff.
There was allso old church benches from curch of Muurame. It was renowed at 70's and benches have lied in that storage since then.
About 30 cpl:s or more. Designed by Alvar Aalto! Lenghts are: 322cm 250cm and 347cm, depth is 57cm, hight is 100cm . See following link to see the image of the bench.
more pictures available if asked.
These benches are for sale 800€/cpl, or best offer. You may buy just one, or whole punch. Price is then much lower/ cpl.
Please don't hesitate to ask:
jari.lajunen (at)