Finnish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale

The Finnish pavilion, designed at the initiative of art patron Maire Gullichsen, was set up in the Giardini parkland to house the Finnish exhibition section of the Venice Biennale International Art Festival in the spring of 1956. Alvar Aalto had only a couple weeks’ time to produce the plans for the pavilion.

According to Aalto’s plan, the pavilion should be an exhibition space that was movable, easy to dissemble, store and re-assemble: “Like a tent,” as he put it. The walls and roof of the light-structured pavilion were made of wooden elements. The building’s architectonic idea was a whole composed of blue wall lamellas and white triangles. Skylights brought natural light into the space and left the wall surfaces free for hanging the exhibition.

Originally meant as a temporary structure the Finnish Pavilion still stands in the same place in the Venice Biennale area, and has over the decades hosted a variety of exhibitions. Nowadays the Finnish Pavilion is a popular attraction and it is considered to be an important part of the International Architecture Exhibition as well.

Throughout its relatively short history, the Finnish pavilion has undergone three major restorations. The building was restored at the Italians’ initiative in 1975-76, as a project by Finnish architectural students led by Panu Kaila in 1993 and again by Gianni Talamini in 2012. The pavilion is the only building Aalto completed in Italy during Alvar Aalto’s lifetime and its preservation is, in the words of Elissa Aalto, “a tribute to Alvar Aalto and a reminder of his relationship with Italy”.

Alvar Aalto loved Italy, and Venice most of all. Alvar and Aino Aalto travelled to Italy on their honeymoon in 1924 and visited Venice as well. Aalto returned to Venice often also with his second wife Elissa Aalto in the fifties and sixties in particular.

”For me in my mind there is always a journey to Italy. It may be a past journey that still lives on in my memory; it may be a journey I am making or perhaps a journey I am planning”

Architect Alvar Aalto, 1954

Riverside sauna at the Kauttua Works

Aino and Alvar Aalto designed the riverside sauna and laundry building for the employees of A. Ahlström company in the Kauttua Works area in Eura. The building is situated by the rapids in the beautiful surroundings of the bank of the flowing Eurajoki river. It was completed in 1946, with a log and brick structure resting on a concrete foundation. Originally the building had a turf roof. Nowadays Aalto’s riverside sauna is operated by a private entrepreneur, offering meeting and catering services, and of course the original Finnish Sauna experience.

Riverside sauna offers its guests a unique and inspiring space for coffee and lunch moments at their Café Nemo. The sauna facilities in the riverside sauna are warmed up for the guests upon request. In addition, pampering herbal and spa treatments are also available. Riverside sauna guests are welcome to swim in the nearby river or by request take a bath in the outdoor hot tub. The building has two changing rooms, a spacious terrace overlooking the river Eurajoki, and a lounge room decorated with Alvar Aalto furniture. Overnight stay at the sauna building is also available on request.

At the Riverside sauna you also find a design shop called Designpesula in the ground floor, in the former laundry room of the building. The shop is provided with unique Artek and Aalto second hand items as well as new Finnish and Scandinavian design items, available for purchase. Small gallery space features varying exhibitions.

Maison Louis Carré

The Maison Louis Carré is one of the most carefully executed and detailed of the private houses designed by Alvar Aalto. Built for a wealthy Parisian art dealer and collector between 1959 and 1963, the house is situated in the small village of Bazoches-sur-Guyonne, in the historic rural landscape near Versailles and Chartres. Although the villa is an expression of Aalto at his most mature, it also embraces the youthful architectonic ideas of his second wife, Elissa Aalto.

Aalto was contacted in January of 1955 by a well-known French art dealer Louis Carré and his wife, who wished to build a villa of the highest artistic quality and material comfort on a large plot Carré had acquired near the village of Bazoches, overlooking a vast panorama that merges historical landmarks and the Forêt de Rambouillet. In addition to the architecture, Aalto was to be responsible for the furnishings – as exclusively designed as possible – and for the landscaping of the whole plot with terraces and plantings.

He designed a house under an immense lean-to roof made of blue Normandy slate, pitched in imitation of the landscape itself. The base and parts of the walls are Chartres limestone; whitewashed brick and marble were also used for the facades. Since the purpose of the house was partly to exhibit gems from the dealer’s stocks to prominent clients in an exclusive domestic milieu, the rooms were divided into an entertaining section and a service section, the bedrooms being connected with the latter. The spacious entrance hall, with large panels that provide surface for the display of art, has a free-form wooden ceiling built in situ by Finnish carpenters, who also realized the stepped wooden ceiling of the large living room. Here, one of the walls entirely opens onto the landscape thanks to a large panorama window.

Specially designed light fixtures, fixed and movable furnishings with many unique touches complete the interior, which rivals that of the Villa Mairea with its modern comfort and magnificent works of art. Mr. and Mrs. Carré’s separate bedrooms are also lavishly appointed, and connected to a Finnish sauna and an intimate garden area sheltered from the wind. The rising pitch of the roof from the kitchen area, office, and the luxurious guestroom makes space for an upper storey containing four bedrooms for the household staff.

The surrounding garden, with its many old trees, was landscaped by Aalto with a system of ‘turf stairs’ i.e., low grassy terraces supported by cleft tree trunks (quickly replaced by stone ones), similar to those used in the Säynätsalo municipal offices and Aalto’s own Experimental House. The garden also contains a theatre cavea built of slate, reminiscent of that enclosed by Aalto’s own architectural office building. A garage, partly embedded into the slope, and a swimming pool complete the picture. The Maison Carré was inaugurated in 1959, but work continued until 1961.

AaltoAlvari Swimming Hall

AaltoAlvari is the only swimming hall designed by Alvar Aalto. AaltoAlvari also has a gym, sports hall and a cafeteria. AaltoAlvari is also part of the main campus of the Jyväskylä University campus that was designed by Aalto as well. The original design of the swimming hall is from the 1950’s. Soon after its completion the desire was expressed to extend the building. Further extensions were made in the 1960’s, 1970’s and in the 1990’s. The oldest part of the swimming hall was completed in 1955 and it has a 25 meter swimming pool. In 1964 children pool was added and in 1968 the gym was built. In 1975 a 50 meter swimming pool was also added. The latest addition to the building is the spa section which was completed in 1991. Following the renovation in 1991 the swimming hall was converted into a versatile spa-like centre, and was given the name AaltoAlvari. 

AaltoAlvari was protected by law in 1992, except for the spa section. AaltoAlvari has also been renovated over the years. The first renovation started in 1998 from the 1950’s part. The latest renovation was completed in 2013 and then the focus was for the 1970’s part. The spa section from the 1990’s is in its original state. Renovation for the spa section as well as adding an extension to it, is being planned. The goal of the future renovations is to make AaltoAlvari a leading water sports centre which will serve both the locals as well as travellers better.

In 1950’s it became more common to build swimming halls in Finland, however it often involved various arrangements for example concerning funding. In the case of Aalto’s swimming hall the client-developer was different than for all the other building on the campus, where it has been the National Board of Building, that is, the Finnish state. Here the client-developer was the University of Jyväskylä Student Union whom the city of Jyväskylä and the Finnish state partially funded as well. At the same time when the architectural competition for the campus area was in preparation in 1950, Jyväskylä Student Union was in the process of designing a hall with Ilmari Niemeläinen, who was an architect as well as a Olympia swimmer. Therefore the hall eventually became to be a part in the architectural competition for the campus as well.

In Aalto’s proposal URBS the new buildings were grouped around the sports field and he also preserved more of the older buildings in the area than the other competitors. URBS included the plans for the swimming hall and the Student Gymnasium Building already on the draft plan. The south-west end of the building was built adjoining to the Student Gymnasium Building. However, the main entrance to the swimming hall was designed on the north-west side of the building, that is, facing out from the campus area. On its completion the swimming hall was open not only to the college students but also to the citizens of Jyväskylä. This was one of the things in Aalto’s plan that got praised.

After Aalto won the competition, the swimming-hall also grew in size later. It was separated from the gymnasium building and a spectator seating and changing rooms and washrooms were added to the plan.  The original sizes of changing rooms and washrooms meant that they could be used only by one group at a time. Aalto’s swimming hall opened for public on 19th of May 1955.

Muuratsalo Experimental house

The Muuratsalo Experimental House, Alvar and Elissa Aalto’s summer home, stands on the western shore of the island of Muuratsalo in Lake Päijänne. Besides the house itself, also in the grounds are a woodshed and smoke sauna.

The Experimental House consists of the main building (1952–54) and a guestroom-wing (1953). The L-shaped main building and walls form an internal courtyard which is open to the south and west. In the courtyard, the house façade material ranges from white-painted plastered wall to red brick. The heart of the patio is an open fireplace in the centre of the courtyard.

The smoke sauna is in a sandy cove on the lake shore. It was built on rocks, with logs from trees felled on site. Besides the steam room, the sauna building also has a changing room. Alvar Aalto made sketches for the sauna and Elissa Aalto created the working drawings.

Aalto designed the motorboat Nemo propheta in patria, which Elissa and Alvar Aalto used to get to the Experimental House in the summer. The boat is now in the Alvar Aalto Foundation’s collection. 

Find out more about the architecture of the building on the Alvar Aalto Foundation website. The Muuratsalo Experimental House can only be visited in the summer. Visits and guided tours are managed by the Aalto2 Museum Centre.

Interior and Furnishing of the Savoy Restaurant

Aino and Alvar Aalto designed the interior of Savoy Restaurant, which occupies a commercial building in the centre of Helsinki. The restaurant’s furniture was commissioned from Artek. The Savoy has mostly kept its original appearance and is still a restaurant.

A. Ahlström Osakeyhtiö commissioned the commercial and office building called the Industrial Palace on the South Esplanade in 1937. Aino and Alvar designed the top-floor restaurant and the furnishings for the function rooms on the floor beneath it.

The Savoy Vase

In 1936, Alvar Aalto took part in an invited exhibition held by the Karhula-Iittala glass factory. His series of glass works “Eskimoerindens skinnbuxa” (The Eskimo Woman’s Leather Breeches) won the competition. These winning vases were first displayed to the public at the Paris World Exposition in 1937. One of the models was also chosen to be part of the new Restaurant Savoy’s furnishings. This design of vase came to be known by the name of the restaurant – Savoy.

Erottaja Pavilion

Erottaja Pavilion is one of Helsinki’s earliest Aalto-designed buildings. This small building intended as an emergency-shelter entrance is close to Helsinki’s city centre.

The Pavilion building is part of a larger plan for a traffic system for the Erottaja district. Aalto’s office won the architectural competition for the entire Erottaja district, but the traffic system was never implemented. The iron-framed pavilion is clad in bronze and granite.

Erottaja Pavilion, close to the Akateeminen Kirjakauppa bookshop, is a curiosity in Aalto’s production, a reminder of his larger, unrealized plans for Helsinki’s city centre.

Enso-Gutzeit Co. Headquarters

The Enso-Gutzeit Headquarters building was completed in the centre of Helsinki, in a prominent place in the Southern Harbour, in 1962. Now Stora Enso’s Headquarters, the building is one of Aalto’s most controversial works.

Aalto wanted to design a new head-office building to be part of Helsinki’s shoreline silhouette. The white Carrara marble chosen as the surface material links the building with the row of white facades on the North Esplanade. The building has six floors above ground level. The receding top floor creates room for a roof terrace. The building’s main entrance is through a portico.

The furnishings were carefully designed, right down to the smallest detail. Many of the pieces of furniture and light fittings were designed specifically for the building.