Profiling the Masters: Alvar Aalto

Recognized today as one of the great masters of architecture, Alvar Aalto’s influence on design is undeniable.

Photo: Eino Mäkinen, Alvar Aalto Museum.

Photo: Eino Mäkinen, Alvar Aalto Museum.

His architecture is uniquely Finnish, and distinctive for its strong relationship to nature, emphasis on function, and attention to detail.

Finnish Pavilion, 1939 World's Fair, designed by Alvar Aalto. Gelatin silver print. Carnegie Museum of Art, Purchase: gift of the Drue Heinz Trust. Image courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art, copyright Ezra Stoller/Esto, Yossi Milo Gallery.

Finnish Pavilion, 1939 World’s Fair, designed by Alvar Aalto. Gelatin silver print. Carnegie Museum of Art, Purchase: gift of the Drue Heinz Trust. Image courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art, copyright Ezra Stoller/Esto, Yossi Milo Gallery.

Aalto began to think of furnishings as a natural extension to his architecture.  In fact, his first pieces of furniture were created in 1931-32 for the Tuberculosis Sanatorium in Paimio, Finland.

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Paimio Sanatorium in Finland

Not only was the architecture of the sanatorium optimized to provide ample sun and fresh air – the only then-known cure for tuberculosis – but its furniture was designed be an instrument of healing as well.  The Paimio chair, below, was designed at an angle to provide ease of breathing for patients.

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Aalto’s Paimio Chair

Using birch wood native to Finland and a belt wood technique he himself pioneered, Aalto created iconic products from the stacking Stool 60 to the Armchair 400.  Many of his designs continue to be produced by Artek, a company he co-founded.

Armchair 400 and Stool 60, both designed by Alvar Aalto.

Armchair 400 and Stool 60, both designed by Alvar Aalto.

Aside from his furniture, Aalto designed a staple of modern designed spaces worldwide, the Aalto vase:

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The Aalto Vase

Aalto’s work was well received in the U.S. and the Museum of Modern Art organized an exhibition of his work in 1938.  The influence of his work can be seen throughout time in designers such as Charles and Ray Eames, who also shared a similar spirit for humanistic design.

Learn more about the masters of design here.

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