Säynätsalo Town Hall

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Photo: Maija Holma / AAM
  • PlaceJyväskylä
  • Completion 1952
  • Decade1950s
  • PeriodPost-war modernism
  • Year of selection1993


The history of Säynätsalo as an industrial community originated with Johan Parviainen who established a saw mill in 1898 on what was then an uninhabited island on Lake Päijänne, followed in 1914 by a plywood factory. The municipality of Säynätsalo was founded ten years later. In 1942 Alvar Aalto was commissioned by the Enso-Gutzeit company to draw up a master plan for the area, and was probably asked by the Municipal Board already early in 1948 to come up with a scheme also for the town hall.

Aino Aalto died on January 13, 1949, which had a devastating effect on Alvar Aalto. Nevertheless, in the invited architecture competition for the town hall, which had been announced on September 15, 1949, Aalto and his office surpassed themselves. In the winning proposal, “Curia”, the building wound around a rising hilltop, creating a small piazza. Aalto had written about the “hilltop town” already in the 1920s: “For me, the ‘rising town’ has become like a religion, a disease, a madness, call it what you will.” (Schildt, 1997, 49)

Architect Elsa Mäkiniemi (later Elissa Aalto) had begun working in Aalto’s office in August 1949, and according to Aalto she was “mainly responsible” for the building and supervision of the work (Aalto 1953, 149). Construction of the town hall began in May 1950, was completed in December the following year, and inaugurated on August 28, 1952. Aalto described his building as follows:

“The building, situated on a relatively steep slope, is built in one to two storeys around a central courtyard, a patio. The yard creates an elevated level, which was achieved by directly reusing the excess soil from the foundation excavations to serve this raised yard. Business premises were required on the lower level of the building. Thus by using two levels, the street level and the patio, the administrative building, the facilities of which were placed around the patio, was freed from the vulgarising impact of the business premises.” (Aalto 1953, 149)

Säynätsalo town hall is one of the key works of Aalto’s red-brick architecture, in which the human scale, simple and natural materials, as well as themes from the international architectural heritage come together in a unique way. The tallest element is the council chamber, thus demonstrating the hierarchy of the functions. The significance of the council chamber is also emphasized by the sculptural wooden rafters in the ceiling and the elegant interior. The hierarchy of the functions and spaces unfolds as subtle references in materials and details, and the carefully considered humane architecture continues in the building’s fixed and movable furniture and lamps. An intimate side passage to the offices encircles the courtyard, in which a fountain and bronze cast called “Dancer” by the sculptor Väino Aaltonen contribute to the atmosphere.

In 1993 the municipality of Säynätsalo was incorporated into the city of Jyväskylä and the town hall lost its primary function. The city’s regional office service point was closed down on December 23, 2015, though the branch library continues to operate and the apartments are still in use.


Jonas Malmberg

Aalto, Alvar (1953). ”Kunnantalo, Säynätsalo”. Arkkitehti 9–10/1953.
Isohauta Teija (2007). Säynätsalon kunnantalo / Säynätsalo Town Hall. Alvar Aalto Museum: www.alvaraalto.fi (haettu / accessed 7.8.2015).
Schildt, Göran (toim./ed.) (1997). Näin puhui Alvar Aalto / Alvar Aalto in His Own Words. Helsinki: Otava.
Weston, Richard (1993). Architecture in Detail: Town Hall, Säynätsalo. London: Phaidon Press.