History Lesson: Alvar Aalto

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Hugo Alvar Henrik Aalto was a Finnish architect, furniture designer, and city planner who was known for his distinctive mix of modern refinement, domestic materials, and personal touch in the details of it all. 

His first architectural piece was his parents’ house which he did before graduating from Helsinki University of Technology in 1921. In 1923 he created his first architectural office named “Alvar Aalto, Architect and Monumental Artist” where he gained popularity by designing single- family homes in Jyvaskyla. 

Between the years of 1927 and 1928 Aalto gained worldwide recognition as he received commissions for three buildings: Turun Sanomat Building in Turku which was a newspaper office, The Municipal Library in Vyborg, Russia, and the tuberculosis sanatorium in Paimio. The architectural work of these buildings established him as the most advanced architect in Finland.  

Aalto’s career overall had four main phases which included classicism, functionalism, experimentation, and monumentalism.  

Classicism and functionalism were seen in the beginning stages of his career specifically in the single-family homes he designed in Jyvaskyla. His shift into functionalism took place during the creation of the Municipal Library, where he used wavy lines and warm tones of wood to soften the modern look. 

Experimentation and monumentalism came towards the middle to the end of his career through his designing and furnishing of the Paimio Sanatorium for tuberculosis and many other buildings that he designed abroad.  

Designing over 500 buildings throughout his career, Aalto was a very successful and celebrated artist throughout his career and continues to be recognized today.  

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