The Aalto House

1936
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Photo: AAM
  • PlaceHelsinki
  • Completion 1936
  • Decade1930s
  • PeriodConstructing the identity of a newly independent nation
  • Year of selection1993

 

Alvar and Aino Aalto designed for their family a detached house on a plot they had acquired in the district of Munkkiniemi in 1934. The house, which was completed two years later, comprised in addition to the family’s home also spaces for an architect’s studio, which entailed dividing the interior of the building in two. The large window in the studio extending to the ceiling resembles the design solution typical for an artist’s studio, where the workspace receives an abundance of even northern light. Despite the shared main entrance, the studio was clearly separated off from the family’s representative combined living and dining room. On the upper floor were the most private rooms: bedrooms, guest room, informal lounge and bathroom.

In terms of building technology, the house is more diverse than its uncomplicated exterior lets one believe at first glance. The street side and the studio section are mainly built of brick, but the courtyard side is supported on steel pillars and the upper floor projection is a light-weight wood construction. The horizontal structures are in concrete. The structural solutions are evident also in the exterior architecture as lightly rendered brick surfaces, painted and stained wood surfaces, as well as steel and concrete structures. In Aalto’s own description: “The exceptional structure is justified by the following considerations: in a private house, where the lighting, different orientations of the rooms, orientation of the terraces and wind protection, etc., are preferably resolved economically, one will inevitably, in our climate, require a lot of external walls.” (Aalto 1937, 113)

Rather than denying the house’s association with the history of modernism, one can find further adapted references to domestic and international vernacular building. Aalto’s relatively early-onset as a critic of strict and dogmatic modernism and his search for alternatives are reflected in the architecture of the home and in its close-to-nature and cosy materials. The interior materials continue along the same lines as the exterior architecture: varnished parquet flooring and linoleum harmonize with plywood and fabric upholstery, light coloured brickwork and the jute cloth of the studio.

Aino Aalto died in 1949. Alvar Aalto lived in the house with his second wife, Elissa Aalto, until his own death in 1976. After that Elissa lived alone in the house until 1994. Over a period of nearly six decades only minor changes were made to the building: space for a servant’s room was sequestered from the lower storey terrace already in 1939, the wall of the hobby room on the upper floor terrace was moved and new glass doors were added, and also the wall between the children’s bedrooms have at times been removed and then returned.

Management of the house was transferred to the Alvar Aalto Foundation in 1998, and the building renovation emphasising preservation was carried out in 2001-2002 under the direction of Tapani Mustonen of Iivanainen & Mustonen Architects. Since then, maintenance repairs have been carried out at the house.

 

Jonas Malmberg

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Aalto, Alvar (1937). ”Yksityistalo Aalto”. Arkkitehti, 8/1937.
Isohauta, Teija (2002). Alvar Aalto. Riihitien talo 1935–36 / The Riihitie House 1935–36. Helsinki: Alvar Aalto -säätiö.
Pakoma, Katariina (toim./ed.) (2012). Yksityistalo Aalto. Aalto-huset. The Aalto House. Jyväskylä: Alvar Aalto -museo.
Pallasmaa, Juhani (ed.) (2003). The Aalto House 1935–36. Alvar Aalto Architect Volume 6. Helsinki: Alvar Aalto Academy.