Alvar Aalto

1898 - 1976

Alvar Aalto

The Finnish architect and designer Alvar Aalto is renowned as one of Scandinavia’s leading figures in the field of 20th Century Modernism. His work covers a wide span from large-scale architectural projects, furniture design and light fittings to glassware, textiles and jewellery. Like his Danish colleague Arne Jacobsen, Aalto combined architecture and design, regarding furniture and lighting as an integral part of the building and therefore no less important than the architectural frame. Most of his designs were thus made in combination with specific architectural projects.

Aalto graduated as an architect from the Helsinki Institute of Technology in 1921. During his long and productive career, his work as an architect embraced almost all key public institutions – town halls, theatres, churches, libraries and universities – as well as apartment buildings and one-family houses. One of his main accomplishments was the The Paimio Sanatorium, inaugurated in 1933 and fully furnished with Aalto’s designs.

As a furniture designer Aalto is known by his organic forms and the use of natural materials. He had a thing for the light Finnish birch wood and his designs possess a warm and inclusive character, aspiring experiential qualities rather than conceptual aesthetics. Correspondingly, he insistently regarded lamps as sources of light defining our use and experience of space. In 1935, lecturing at the Swedish Society for Industrial Design, he said: “Design tricks may lead to piquant effects (lamps that look nice when lit etc.), but we cannot base our lighting design in the age of electricity on such dilettantism.” However, most of his lamps embody beautiful sculptural elements and all of his designs hold a distinctive artistic quality of their own.

Aalto’s famed Savoy vase has thus been an icon of Finnish design. Originally designed in 1936, its free form with the curving and unsymmetrical lines exemplifies all the features synonymous with Aalto’s unorthodox style. The inspiration behind the design is said to be the Finnish landscape; the winding profile of the numerous Finnish lakes, but there are also notable similarities between Aalto’s design, the organic and free lines, and the work of the French artist Jean Arp.