Villa Mairea

thumb image
Photo: Jussi Tiainen / MFA
  • PlaceNoormarkku
  • Completion 1939
  • Decade1930s
  • PeriodConstructing the identity of a newly independent nation
  • Year of selection1993


Aino and Alvar Aalto designed Villa Mairea for their close friends Maire and Harry Gullichsen. It is Alvar Aalto’s most complex and opulent private house, as well as the synthesis of his architectural ideas during the 1930s. These began to demonstrate a more pronounced diversity in terms of spaces and materials, as well as a vibrancy that contrasted to the severe Functionalism elsewhere. The house was a product of the Aaltos’ and Gullichsens’ shared striving for a modern lifestyle, but also continued the Ahlström family’s tradition of building their homes in the location of the company’s plant. Aalto himself described Villa Mairea as a laboratory, hoping that it would lead to a more flexible consideration for the individual also in the rest of housing production; for example, the possibility of a closer relationship between art and the home, even within the limitations of a smaller apartment.

Villa Mairea is situated on a forested hillock. The two-storey residence, a separate sauna building and a canopy connecting these, together demarcate a sheltered garden, the focal point of which is a free-form swimming pool. On the ground floor are the living spaces, kitchen and utility rooms, and on the upper floor the bedrooms, guest rooms and Maire Gullichsen’s own studio. The garden acts as an intermediary space towards the surrounding forest. Stone walls and hillocks demarcate the house’s immediate surroundings without creating overly distinct boundaries in the landscape.

As a consequence of the multi-stage design process, the ground floor living spaces form a uniform, yet complex totality. The large and continuous living area was, according to Aalto’s description, intended for the family’s every day use; it was an architectural totality in which artworks and everyday life overlapped. The space is organized in accordance with the different uses, the various parts have a human scale and there are visual connections between them. The sliding glass wall of the living room connects the interior spaces to the garden. Modernist art has always been an integral part of Villa Mairea. Maire Gullichsen had studied painting, founded the Free Art School in Helsinki and was a tireless advocate of contemporary art.

Villa Mairea is characterised by a dialogue in which the building both creates a contrast to the surrounding forest landscape and is in harmony with it. The white, flat-roofed house can be glimpsed from between the pine trees. Wood is used in the cladding of the façades of significant spaces, such as the living rooms, Maire Gullichsen’s studio and the master bedroom. The forest theme also extends inside the house, with slender wooden pillars flanking the access route from the main entrance to the living room and the stairs leading upwards. Views out into the surrounding forest nature are important, particularly on the ground floor but also upstairs in the bedrooms and upper hall. In Villa Mairea, Aalto also used solutions that were technically advanced for a private house, such as the partial steel frame and mechanical ventilation.

Compared to other residences built at that time, Villa Mairea comes across as particularly nuanced and poetic. The different rhythms and tones of its spaces are comparable to the diversity and richness of nature itself. Traditional elements, such as the turf roof, interweave with the clarity of the modernist architecture. The house comprises a myriad of subtle details, braiding, joints and material juxtapositions. The rich use of wood and the particular sensitivity of the forms and materials help create the warm character of Villa Mairea.

Villa Mairea has retained all its essential characteristics, and is maintained with great care.


Sirkkaliisa Jetsonen

Aalto, Aino & Alvar (1939). ”Mairea”. Arkkitehti 9/1939.
Gullichsen, Kirsi & Kinnunen, Ulla (eds.) 2009. Inside the Villa Mairea. Art, Design and Interior Architecture. Jyväskylä: Alvar Aalto Museum & Noormarkku: Mairea Foundation.
Pallasmaa, Juhani (ed.) (1998). Alvar Aalto. Villa Mairea 1938–39. Helsinki: Alvar Aalto Foundation & Noormarkku: Mairea Foundation.


Projects by same architect