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Finland

To know the work of Alvar Aalto (1898-1976) and Aino Aalto (1894 –1949) is to know Finland. Pioneers of modern architecture and design, the Finnish designers’ oeuvre — which spans architecture, furniture, textiles, glassware, sculpture and paintings — can be employed as a map of the country, as well as a chart of time along the nation’s esteemed design history.


Meandering between Nordic Classicism, Modernism and Functionalism in style, follow our trip through Finland via Alvar and Aino’s most poignant architectural projects.

Finland Angel Wing Lamp Hotel St George

Customized edition of the Angel Wing Lamp for St. George Hotel.

Finland Portraits Aino Alvar Aalto

Aino and Alvar Aalto

Finland Theatre

Jyväskylä City Theatre Main stage

Starting big with a visit to Jyväskylä, a city in the western part of the Finnish Lakeland formerly known as the ‘Athens of Finland’ thanks to it once being the center of Finnish culture and academia. It’s also home to the largest number of Alvar Aalto-designed structures in any single location, including his 1953 university campus. Here, a ‘horse-shoe’ blueprint dictated that the structures should be arranged in a semi-circular format with a sports field at the centre — this was followed by second phase comprising a main building, library, gymnasium building and staff accommodation. The result is a masterful city within a city; the exploration of which is best combined with tours of other Aalto-designed structures nearby, such as the Alvar Aalto Museum, Muurame Church and Säynätsalo Town Hall.

Finland Muurame

Muurame church Overarching

Finland Pathway

Jyväskylä Inspired by nature

Finland Lecture Corner

Jyväskylä Lecture space

Finland Chairs

Alvar Aalto Stacking Side Chairs, 1929

In Helsinki, The Aalto House is a good starting point from which to explore the tenets of the Aaltos’ work in the capital. Located in the capital’s Munkkiniemi area, the multifunctional 1936 structure was designed as a family home and office by Aalto and Aino (Aalto’s first wife), and as such also features a number of iconic furniture items by the couple including the Paimio Chair, the Beehive Pendant and the Tank Armchair. Simple, uncluttered and light, the property combines dark-stained timber and rendered brickwork with subtle references to Functionalism, while Alvar’s progression toward Romantic Functionalism is felt in the application of wood throughout.

Finland Aalto House Entrance

Aalto House Entrance

Finland Aalto House Exterior

Aalto House Exterior 1930s

Finland Aalto House Office Wall

Aalto House Office wall

Further architectural gems can be found in the same western neighborhood — the district was partially realised to the plans of another Finnish architectural stalwart, Eliel Saarinen. It’s also where Alvar chose to expand his office in the 1950s, to accommodate the growing size of his portfolio. The L-shaped Studio Aalto, completed in 1955, is notable for the amphitheatre-shaped garden in its inner courtyard, overlooked by a defining curving studio at the building’s core. Now a protected landmark building, the studio was Alvar’s office up until his death in 1976 and has come to embody his signature free-form spaces and use of light. Today the building is HQ for the Alvar Aalto Foundation and is open for guided tours.

Finland Aalto Studio Interior

Aalto Studio Lighting corner

Finland Aalto Studio Exterior

Aalto Studio Exterior

Included as part of the designer’s central area plan for the city in 1959, Finlandia Hall is an event and congress building that was designed with Alvar’s aforementioned proclamation in mind. Built between 1967–71 and 1973–75, the iconic structure cuts a striking figure on the city’s landscape with its Italian Carrara marble and Oulainen granite façade, while inside more Carrara marble, Italian travertine, walls and oak parquet abound. It’s a fitting tribute to the Töölö Bay area — the scenic heart of the city where a park, winter garden and wooden villas combine — though the additional cultural buildings included on Alvar’s plans were never completed.

Greenbox Chair Greenbox Lamp Greenbox Stool

Greatness cannot be imitated. Our picks on where to go for authentic and authorised Aalto-designed creations.

Greatness cannot be imitated. Our picks on where to go for authentic and authorised Aalto-designed creations.

Greenbox Chair
Greenbox Lamp
Greenbox Stool

“The most beautiful and central location in Helsinki needs a building that is worth it”
Alvar Aalto

Finland Finlandia Hall

Finlandia Hall Helsinki

Finland Paimio Sanatorium

Paimio Sanatorium Paimio

Heading west, towards Turku, and Paimio is where you’ll find the ground-breaking 1933 Paimio Sanatorium, which came to symbolise Alto’s emergence onto a global stage of recognition. Designed with Aino after their proposal won a 1929 competition, the former hospital embodies a number of the couple’s design hallmarks and was a testing ground for furniture pieces — including the eponymous Paimio Chair — that would eventually be produced by Artek, founded just two years later. In addition to guided tours of the site, the town is blessed with hillside meadows along the River Paimionjoki and various museums.

Finland Villa Mairea Library

Villa Mairea Noormarkku Works

“I prefer a library to a cathedral because the feeling is the same — the silence is there. I find my peace there” 

Mirkku Kullberg, Hotel St. George

View portrait

Finland Mirkku Kullberg

Northbound and Noormarkku is home to Villa Mairea, a 1939 house designed by Alvar and Aino for their friends Maire and Harry Gullichsen. As well as housing Maire Gullichsen’s extensive art collection — featuring the likes of Léger, Picasso, Braque and Modigliani — the home features multiple references to nature in its use of free, flowing space, the application of natural materials and textures, and the presence of forms evocative of natural processes. Set amidst a pine forest, the surroundings form an appropriately serene backdrop for the property, which is viewable by the public through guided tours, while the wider area — a historically industrial town — is also worth exploring.

 

Words Ella Marshall   Date 25 April, 2021

Images of Jyväskylä by Janne Tuunanen

Find the Terms & Conditions for our Design Hotels x Artek Sweepstakes here.

Finland Nature

Pine forests

Finland Villa Mairea Exterior

Villa Mairea Exterior

Finland Villa Mairea Interior

Villa Mairea Living space

Take a journey through Finland from its pristine woods, wild and brooding, to its cosmopolitan capital on an endless summer day.

Finland Artek Store Helsinki

Artek Store Helsinki - Image: Mikko Ryhänen

Finland Hotel St George E60

St George Hotel featuring padded Artek E60 stool

Artek Stool 01 1800X1200px

Simple, modern and elegant, Alvar Aalto’s 60 Stool presents an instantly recognizable piece of Nordic design, created by a pioneer of the contemporary Scandinavian aesthetic. Customized for Design Hotels in a modern riff on an iconic Finnish design, a limited-edition version of the stackable three-legged stool is available to purchase as part of an exclusive restock.

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