Alvar Aalto

1898-1976

About The Artist

Finnish architect Alvar Aalto (1898–1976) is one of the most respected designers of the 20th century. Renowned for the humanism of his vision, Aalto built numerous buildings and complexes in Europe and the United States. He also regularly designed furniture, textiles and glassware specific to his building projects and, in the process, pioneered the treatment of materials such as plywood.

Aalto studied architecture at the Helsinki University of Technology, graduating in 1921. His first project was a house for his parents and he went on to establish his own practice in 1923 at Jyväskylä, in Finland. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Aalto travelled extensively to Sweden, the U.S. and, most importantly, in Italy where he discovered the Mediterranean culture that was to prove influential on his approach to design. His early projects reflect the classicism of his architectural training, though Aalto soon developed a more streamlined aesthetic. His work was compared to that of the Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius and Aalto became a member of CIAM, Congrès internationaux d'architecture moderne, in 1929, where he befriended many of the leading modernist architects of the day including Le Corbusier. His Finnish pavilion at the 1939 New York World's Fair brought him considerable international acclaim and increasingly led to commissions abroad including one of the dormitory buildings at MIT which he designed in the 1940s while teaching there as a visiting professor. 

Aalto’s designs are characterised by their curving organic forms and natural materials, as well as their functionality and practicality. One of his most heralded buildings, the Paimio Sanatorium (1929–32), was celebrated for the considerate way in which patient needs were incorporated into the design. There, Aalto maximised exterior views for bedridden patients and adapted the light, heating and furniture to their requirements. It was this attention to detail which led to the innovative bent plywood in his now iconic Paimio chair. The comfort and resiliency of these designs established his reputation and Aalto’s furniture continues to enjoy a dedicated following among collectors and design enthusiasts alike.

Aalto’s work has been the subject of numerous major international exhibitions, such as “Alvar Aalto: Through the Eyes of Shigeru Ban,” Barbican Art Gallery, London (2007), “Alvar Aalto: Between Humanism and Materialism,” Museum of Modern Art, New York (1998) and “Alvar Aalto,” Centre Pompidou, Musée National d´Art Moderne, Paris (1988). Aalto’s work was also celebrated during his lifetime with retrospectives in Europe, including “Alvar Aalto,” Moderna Museet, Stockholm (1969) and “Alvar Aalto - Kunsthaus Zürich, Zurich (1964).

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