Aalvar Aalto (1898-1976)

Finnish architect, designer and urban planner, born Kuotarne, Finland, active Finland and the United States.


Aalto studied architecture at the Helsinki Technical College, and by 1923 had established a practice near his hometown. In 1924, he married Aino Marsio, also an architect, whom he had been employing as his assistant. They began an important collaboration, and were to remain creative partners until Aino´s death in 1949.

Aalto´s first major work, the celebrated tuberculosis sanatorium at Paimio, was completed in 1933. As staunch a proponent of functionalism as his Bauhaus counterparts, he nevertheless avoided industrial materials, preferring instead to create a more humane environment for the sick. His experimentation with bending birchwood during the late 1920´s had given him the technical capacity to create the famous Paimo armchair for this project, made from a single piece of molded plywood, the first of its kind.

Aalvar achieved international recognition at the 1939 New York World´s Fair with his Finnish Pavilion, dubbed a "symphony in wood". Its undulating curves had become characteristic of his aesthetic.

The publicity generated by the pavilion lead, in part, to a 1940-9 professorship in architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Aalto designed a dormitory there during his tenure. Other significant projects include the Viipuri Library, his own house in Helsinki, and an exhibition pavilion celebrating the 700th anniversary of the town of Turku.

Aalto was widely honored for his work. He received an honorary doctorate from Princeton University in 1947, and the Royal Gold Medal of Architecture from the British Government. He was also appointed to the Academie der kunste, Berlin, the academy of Finland, and was made a Royal Honorary Designer for Industry in England.

Aino Aalto achieved fame as a designer in her own right. The Bölgeblick line of glassware (1932), probably her most famous design, has been widely imitated.

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