Alver Aalto

Hugo Alvar Henrik Aalto (Kuortane, 3 February 1898 - Helsinki, 11 May 1976) was a Finnish modernist architect and industrial designer. Aalto was one of the first and most influential architects of the Modern Movement in Scandinavia. He was a member of the CIAM (Congrès Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne). Important works by Alvar Aalto are the Finlandia Hall in Helsinki, the City Hall in Säynätsalo and the main building of the Helsinki University of Technology, whose successor bears Aalto's name since 2010. Most of his buildings are in various locations in Finland, but many of his designs have also been realised outside of Finland, for example in Germany and the United States.

He was also known for his designs for furniture and glassware. World famous is the Aalto Vase (1936), which is based on a series of sketches he called Eskimoerindens skinnbyxa (the leather trousers of an Eskimo woman). They were made as a result of a design competition organised by the Karhula-Iittala glassworks. This company then went on to produce the vase as well. Aalto's furniture and that of his wife Aino were sold by the firm Artek, of which they were co-founders in 1935 and which continued to exist after Aalto's death.

Aalto's simple lines were an inspiration to colleagues, including Danish designer Grete Jalk. Aalto's designs can also be found in products from Ikea: for example, Aalto's stool No. 60 from 1933 underlies Ikea's Frosta.


Aalto was born in Kuortane in Southern Ostrobothnia. Aalto was the grandson of a forester and the son of a surveyor. He was the first-born of four siblings. Finnish and Swedish were spoken in his liberal family. The family moved to Jyväskylä in 1903. In addition to attending elementary school, he received painting and piano lessons. In 1916, Aalto graduated from the grammar school in his hometown, which had been founded in 1858 as the first Finnish-language lyceum. Among other things, he learned German there. The following summer, Aalto completed an internship with the architect Toivo Salervo, who advised him against studying architecture and recommended that he become a newspaper editor.

From 1916 to 1921, he studied architecture at the Helsinki Polytechnic. His teachers were Usko Nyström, lecturer in ancient and medieval architecture, and Armas Lindgren, lecturer in modern architecture, building and construction. After his studies he travelled to Riga, followed by military service in the reserve officer school in Hamina. His father was his first client, who had the Mammula house rebuilt according to his designs. In 1923, Aalto opened an architectural office with assistants in the basement of a hotel in Jyväskylä after his plan to work as an architect in Helsinki failed. Under the pseudonym Remus, he published in the daily newspaper Sisä-Suomi for the next four years. In 1924, he married his assistant Aino Marsio. The bride and groom spent their honeymoon in Italy. In August of the following year, a daughter named Hanni was born. The two architects lived in a detached house designed by Wivi Lönn, and in 1926 they had a summer house built in Alajärvi. Villa Flora had been designed by Aino. In 1926, Aalto visited Denmark and Sweden. In Denmark he was impressed by the cosy, petit-bourgeois flats, and in Stockholm he made the acquaintance of Sven Markelius and Gunnar Asplund, with whom he was to have a lifelong friendship.

In 1927 he moved the office to Turku. In 1928 their son Hamilkar was born. In the same year, Aino and Alvar visited Sweden, Denmark, France and Holland. They made the acquaintance of Le Corbusier, Johannes Duiker, Sigfried Giedion, Fernand Léger and László Moholy-Nagy. Participation in the Congrès International d'Architecture Moderne (CIAM) expanded the circle to include Walter Gropius as well as Karl Moser. He also became friends with Agda and Erik Bryggman, with whom he devised projects.

The years 1927 to 1929 were decisive for Aalto's career. He received commissions for three important buildings that established him as Finland's most progressive architect and brought him worldwide attention. The first two were the editorial building of the newspaper Turun Sanomat in Turku and the city library in Viipuri (now in Russia). In 1929, Aalto won the competition to build the Paimio Sanatorium, which laid the foundation for his organic design, which he later developed further, including the very well-known curved wicker chair "Paimio". In 1933, the studio was moved to Helsinki. On 15 October, the Aalto couple founded ARTEK, a furniture manufacturing company, with Maire Gullichsen and Nils-Gustav Hahl.

From 1940, Aalto was professor of architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. In total, Aalto participated in about 200 projects, of which about half of his designs were actually realised. He was awarded first prize for the design of the opera house in Essen in 1959. However, this opera was not built until 12 years after his death by the architect Harald Deilmann and Aalto's second wife Elissa Mäkiniemi.

Aino Marsio died in 1949. In 1952, Aalto married the architect and designer Elissa Mäkiniemi. Alvar Aalto died in Helsinki on 11 May 1976 and was buried in Hietaniemi Cemetery.

Style Characteristics

Aalto's designs are characterised by their functionalism. Typical for Aalto are spaces that flow into each other, curved walls and the ingenious application of different materials (such as wood, reinforced concrete, steel, etc.) in a building.


His work also includes furniture, textiles and glassware, as well as sculptures and paintings, although he has never been considered an artist: he considers painting and sculpture to be "branches of the tree whose trunk is architecture ". Aalto's early career coincided with the rapid economic growth and industrialisation of Finland in the first half of the 20th century and many of his clients were industrialists, including the Ahlström-Gullichsen family. The breadth of his career, from the 1920s to the 1970s, is reflected in the styles of his work, which range from the Nordic classicism of the early years, through a more organic modernism from the 1940s onwards, to the rational international-style modernism of the 1930s. However, what characterises his entire career is his concern for design as a total work of art (Gesamtkunstwerk), which means that he and his first wife Aino Aalto designed not only buildings, but also interior surfaces, furniture, lamps, furnishings and glassware. His furniture designs are considered modern Scandinavian furniture, in the sense of a concern for materials, especially wood, and simplification, but also technical experimentation, which has led to patents for various manufacturing processes, such as bentwood. The Alvar Aalto Museum, designed by Aalto himself, is located in what is considered his hometown of Jyväskylä.

Many of his buildings blend harmoniously into the landscape, with which they form an architectural whole. Wood and brick are his favourite materials. Alvar Aalto himself designed the furniture for most of his buildings. Among others, he designed Villa Mairea in Noormarkku, Finlandia House in Helsinki and the campus of the Helsinki University of Technology.

Selected Buildings

The thirteen buildings marked with a + were nominated for inclusion in the World Heritage List by the Finnish UNESCO delegation on 2 February 2021.


  • 1921 - 1923: Bell Tower, Kauhajärvi
  • 1924 - 1928: Municipal hospital, Alajärvi
  • 1926 - 1929: Defence Staff Building, Jyväskylä
  • 1927 - 1935: City Library of Viipuri (now Vyborg in Russia)
  • 1928 - 1930: Editorial building Turun Sanomat, Turku
  • 1928 - 1929: + Sanatorium, Paimio


  • 1932: Villa Tammekann, Tartu, Estonia
  • 1934: Corso Theatre, interior of the restaurant, Zurich, Switzerland
  • 1936: + Villa Aalto, private residence, Helsinki
  • 1936 - 1954: + Cellulose factory and worker's quarter Sunila, Kotka
  • 1939: Finnish Pavilion, New York World's Fair
  • 1939: + Villa Mairea, Noormarkku (Pori)


  • 1947 - 1948: Baker House, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • 1949 - 1966: Helsinki University of Technology, Espoo
  • 1949 - 1951: + Säynätsalo Town Hall, Jyväskylä


  • 1951-: + Buildings University of Jyväskylä
  • 1952 - 1954: + Experimental summer house, Muuratsalo
  • 1948 - 1956: + Social Insurance Institute building (Kansaneläkelaitos), Helsinki
  • 1956: Headquarters Stora Enso, Helsinki
  • 1952 - 1957: + Three Crosses Church (Kolmen ristin kirkko), Vuoksenniska, Imatra
  • 1952 - 1958: + Cultuurhal, Helsinki
  • 1955: + Studio Aalto, own studio, Helsinki
  • 1958 - 1987: + town hall and cultural centre, Seinäjoki
  • 1958 - 1972: Art museum of North Jutland, Aalborg, Denmark


  • 1961 - 1965: Lapland Regional Library, Rovaniemi
  • 1962 - 1971: + Finlandia Hall, Helsinki
  • 1960 - 1963: Kulturhaus, Wolfsburg, Germany
  • 1963 - 1965: Building for the Västmanland-Dala Students' Association, Uppsala, Sweden
  • 1962: Central high-rise building of the satellite town "Neue Vahr", Bremen, Germany


  • 1970: Mount Angel Abbey Library, Mount Angel, Oregon


  • 1988: Aalto Theatre, Essen, Germany


Visit our media section for a complete overview.


Alver Aalto
Critical Regionalism
International Style
Kenneth Frampton


DeepDove: Style Network (2021-09-21). Critical Regionalism | Alver Aalto. Retrieved , from




This page was last changed on 2021-09-21.