Alvar Aalto (1898 – 1976) Finnish Architect, town planner and designer of furniture

Alvar Aalto (1898 – 1976) which one of Finland’s leading architects whose genius ranged from large convention Halls to vases. Although the majority of his work was based in Finland, his architecture was known throughout the world. His most famous building was the Finlandia House Convention Hall, often described as a “white marble Iceberg” on the shore of a gulf of Finland inlet that was the sight of the European security conference in July 1975.

Finnish Furniture Ad

Aalto was considered a hero in Finland. He was responsible for much planning and construction following the end of the war between Finland and the soviet union in 1944.


Between 1916- 1921 he studied architecture, at Helsingin Teknillinen Korkeak-oulu, Helsinki, under Armas Lindgren and Lars Sonck. 

Helsinki University of Technology auditorium

After his schooling, he travelled widely in Central Europe, Scandinavia, and Italy. He probably participated in planning the 1923 Gothenburg fair; except for previous minor works, was professionally active from the 1922 Tampere ‘Industrial Exhibition’. In 1922, began an architecture practice in Jyvaskyla, and was active until 1927-33 in Turku, and 1933-76 in Helsinki. 

The 1920s and 30s

He married architect Aina Marsio in 1924 and collaborated with her 1924-29, experimenting with wood. His 1929 exhibition (with Erik Bryggman) celebrating the 700th anniversary of Turku was the first complete public Modern structure in Scandinavia. His 1927-35 Viipuri Library and 1929-33 Sanatorium at Paimio were widely published examples of International Style architecture. An active and important designer for the Wohnbedarf store in Zurich, his entire bentwood furniture collection was included in the catalogue New Wooden Furniture: Aalto, Wohnbedarf (1934) (designed by Herbert Bayer). 

Interior of the Paimo sanatorium

In c1934, he furnished the new Corso theatre, Zurich; influenced by the Bauhaus some of his laminated-plywood chair designs were cantilevered like the bent-steel models of Marcel Breuer, Mies van der Rohe, Mart Stam. In 1928, he purchased tubular-steel chairs by these designers for his apartment. His designs, in turn, were influential in Britain and the USA, inspiring others like Jack Pritchard of Isokon. 

Scroll Chair

His 1930 Paimo (or Scroll) chair was made from a single undulating plywood sheet for the, 1929-33 Paimo Tuberculosis Sanatorium. Dubbed the first soft chair in wood, it was manufactured at first by Huonekalu-ja. Rakennus-tyรถtehdas, ร…bo (Finland), and subsequently by Artek. Many wooden Aalto chair designs followed. 

Paimo Chair designed by Alvar Aalto
Paimo Chair designed by Alvar Aalto

In 1933, he collaborated with Otto Korhonen in developing a solution for bending solid wood, resulting in the L-, Y-, and X-legged furniture. This solution to bentwood technology was arguably his single most significant contribution to furniture design, calling it ‘the little sister of the architectonic column’ยท

Sample of Furniture

Stacking Stools (model 60) designed by Alvar Aalto
Stacking Stools (model 60) designed by Alvar Aalto
Stool (no. V 63) 1946-47 designed by Alvar Aalto
Stool (no. V 63) 1946-47 designed by Alvar Aalto

Home furnishing shop

1935, met Marie Gullichsen and her industrialist husband Harry: who with Aalto and Aino established one of the first Modern home-furnishings shops in Helsinki. Gullichsen commissioned Aalto to design the 1934-35 Sunila Cellulose Factory, workers’ housing and Gullichsen’s residence (the 1935 Villa Mairea).

Glass Designs

Aalto designed glass for Iittala in asymmetrical shapes and curves, of which his 1937 Savoy vase is the most famous. (The vase shape was said to reflect the fjord shorelines of Aalto’s homeland.) 

Savoy Vase designed by Alvar Aalto
Savoy Vase designed by Alvar Aalto
Vase (3031), 1936 designed by Alvar Aalto
Vase (3031), 1936 designed by Alvar Aalto

In 1936, the Karhula-Iittala Glasbruk announced a design competition to find items to exhibit at the 1937 Paris ‘Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques clans la Vie Moderne’. The first-prize winner was Aalto’s 1936 Eskimoerindens skinnbuxa (‘leather trousers of an Eskimo woman’) shape, the first of the glassware series that included the Savoy vase and was produced in clear and coloured glass. 

International Style

Though a practitioner of the International Style, where other architects used ferro cement and stucco extensively, Aalto often used exposed brick. He advocated the use of natural materials and organic forms, promoting a humanistic tradition in architecture and design; in 1940, became a member of CIAM (Congres Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne), which, along with Sigfried Giedion’s approval of his work, gave Aalto prominence in the international avant-garde. 

In 1940-49, was professor, College of Architecture, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He married architect Elissa Makiniemi in 1952 and collaborated with her 1952-76. After Aalto’s death, she finished work left incomplete. The little Aalto wrote is collected in Goran Schildt (ed.), Alvar Aalto: Sketches (1978). 

Aalto’s most famous international works include the Baker House dormitory for the Massachusetts Institute of technology, the library at Mount Angel Benedictine College in Oregon, the Essen, West Germany, Opera house any Institute of International Education in New York.


Byars, Mel, and Terence Riley. The Design Encyclopedia. London: Laurence King, 2004. Print.

You may also be interested in

Finland proposes 13 Alvar Aalto sites for UNESCO World Heritage List

According to an announcement by the Alvar Aalto Foundation, the tentative list of Alvar Aalto-designed modern Finnish buildings and districts to be nominated for the UNESCO World Heritage List includes these 13 sites: Studio Aalto; The Aalto House; Finlandia Hall; Social Insurance Institution Main…

Aino and Alvar Aalto: Shared Visions | SETAGAYA ART MUSEUM

Alvar Aalto (1898-1976) was one of Finland’s most famous architects. His dedication to meticulous design that adopted the perspectives of users, and to architecture rooted in regional cultures and societies, grew out of the deeply held beliefs of another Aalto, his first wife Aino (1894-1949).

Also on Pinterest

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.