Alajärvi City Library

The Alajärvi City Library is the last design project by the architectural firm Aalto & Co. The library was completed in 1991, with Heikki Tarkka serving as the chief architect. Elissa Aalto, Alvar Aalto’s spouse, who finalized several of Alvar Aalto’s unfinished buildings, also participated in the design work. In 1966, Alvar Aalto created a plan for an administrative center in Alajärvi, and the library building’s design is based on his site plan and model.

The library’s minimalist white style echoes other buildings in the Alajärvi Aalto Center, such as the town hall and the parish hall. The Aalto Center comprises several buildings by Aalto, all within a short walking distance from each other. The most striking feature of the library’s design is the undulating wooden ceiling panel. The different shades of wood, the wavy lines, and the spaciousness of the library hall create an organic and nature-inspired impression of the building.

In addition to library operations, the building also hosts rotating art exhibitions.

Rovaniemi Aalto Center, administrative and cultural center

The Rovaniemi administrative and cultural center, Aalto center, is the only completed city center in Finland by Alvar Aalto, along with Seinäjoki.

The three buildings of the Aalto center – the library, Lappia Hall and the town hall – open like a fan shape towards the city center in a spacious park-like square. The library was the first to be completed in 1965. Lappia Hall was the last building that Alvar Aalto saw completed before his death. It was completed in two stages in 1972 and 1975. The design work of the town hall, completed in 1986, was led in Aalto’s office by his wife, architect Elissa Aalto.

The architectural highlights of the buildings are placed on the side of the square, where they form a spectacular entity. The upper windows of the library rise visibly from the rhythmically folded closed facade and bring natural light to the lending department. The upper parts of the stage halls of Lappia Hall rise like fells above the sleek facade line. In the town hall the council chamber has been formed like a crystalline tower, taller than the rest of the building.

In addition to the recognizable features of Aalto’s architecture, the buildings are bound together by the facade materials – light brick and ceramic tile. The materials for the interior of the buildings are well thought out, as are the furniture and lighting, which are partly from Artek’s collection, partly designed for the buildings by Aalto’s office.

Rovaniemi City Library

The library building, which was completed in 1965, was the first of the Rovaniemi administrative and cultural center buildings.

The Rovaniemi library consists of two connected parts: a fan-shaped library hall and an elongated, rectangular office wing. The interior design of the library followed the idea typical of Aalto’s libraries, where the library’s reading rooms were placed on a lower level than the rest of the library hall, in their own recesses. The goal of the hall’s fan-like shape is to enable the staff to have an unobstructed view of the entire hall. In addition to the library hall, the building contains, among other things, a music library, magazine rooms, an exhibition and auditorium hall, and a children’s section.

Natural light and lighting played an important role in the library’s plans. Indirect natural light is brought into the premises by various upper and roof windows and an exceptionally wide variety of fixed special lamps. This creates a great atmosphere in the building in the changing northern light, from dark winters to nightless nights in summer. Some of the furniture and lighting in the library are Artek’s standard models, but Aalto’s office also designed special furniture and at least 10 different lighting models for the building.

The Rovaniemi library is closed for the time being due to renovations that are scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2025.

Wolfsburg Cultural Center

Wolfsburg Cultural Centre was designed and constructed for a small German city built around automotive industry. In choosing Alvar Aalto as the designer, the young city of Wolfsburg wanted to acquire a higher profile.

The building was designed to house the City Library, the Adult education centre and the Youth club. These three different functions were skillfully combined under the same roof, so that each one of them found their own unique space behind the sculptural façade. Nowadays, the City Library is the only original function of the cultural center still in operation. In addition to the library, today the building houses various business facilities, such as a restaurant called Aalto.

The unique shape of the Wolfsburg Cultural Centre is one of its distinct features. The design of the main façade of the building is very geometric. The building appears to form itself from a series of hexagonal volumes that have been pushed together.

In designing the Wolfsburg Cultural Center, Aalto was presented with the possibility of realizing a plan as a “total work of art”, for a client allowing freedom from constraints of budget and schedule. The building also features personalised solutions, such as the atrium courtyard with a sliding roof and fireplace, opening onto the roof terrace of the building. There are also various skylights in the building that bring natural daylight in.

The façade of the building is Carrara marble, while the interiors are mainly granite and wood. Many details of the building, such as door handles and fixed lighting fixtures, as well as furniture, were also designed by Aalto. Nowadays, many of Aalto’s designs can still be seen inside the building.

Vyborg Library

The Alvar Aalto Library in Vyborg, completed in 1935, was one of the buildings that brought Aalto worldwide fame. The history of the competition and design for Vyborg Library is crucially linked with Alvar Aalto’s changeover from classicism to functionalism. The ideas developed for the Viipuri Library competition remained central to the work of Aalto’s office throughout its existence.

Amongst Alvar Aalto’s buildings, the Vyborg Library has had an unusually varied history. Aalto won the competition for the Library in 1927 with a completely Classical proposal, but because of the Great Depression, the construction of the Library was postponed several times. The planned site for the library building also changed from the original plans and also funding initially allocated to the Library was used, instead, to erect a statue of an elk in front of the site where the Library would have later been. The Library was eventually completed in 1935, a modern and progressive building with a formal language developed from Aaltos previous projects: the Turun Sanomat building and Paimio Sanatorium.

The building has two main elements: firstly the library itself, with its various departments, and secondly the socially active part of the library, the clubrooms. The Vyborg Library was also one of the first libraries in Finland at that time, that offered possibilities for other social activities in addition to the library itself. A lot of attention was also focused on the transformability of the spaces inside the building, where for example curtains were used as a room divider. The building consists of three separate libraries: the main hall, the children’s library and the newspaper hall. The main entrance to the building is placed in the library’s northern facade, while the children’s library and the newspaper reading room are located on the eastern and southern facades of the building. In addition to the distinct design language of the building, functionalist features can also be recognized in its light and unostentatious façade, flat roof, skylights and in long rows of windows running the length of the building.

In the Second World War, Finland lost Vyborg to the Soviet Union. The Vyborg library survived the war period, but it remained unused for a decade before some renovations were carried out under the Soviet authority. After the Soviet repairs, the Library functioned again as the Municipal Central Library as originally intended, and was the soul of cultural life in Vyborg.

However, eventually over time the Library fell gradually into disrepair. Eventually, at the start of the 1990s, the city of Vyborg asked Aalto’s architects office for help with planning the repair work. With support from the Finnish Ministry of the Environment, architect Elissa Aalto set up a restoration-working group, which developed into the current restoration association. The goal of this restoration project that spanned national borders was to re-instate the building’s original architectonic value. The renovation, which initially progressed slowly for financial reasons, was given a boost in December 2010 by funds from the Russian government.

The restored Library was opened to the public in November 2013; marking an end to twenty years of work. The restoration work of the library has since received awards for the exceptionally high-quality result and the laudable international cooperation. Nowadays the library is considered to be an important public building for the locals as well as a popular destination for travellers.

Aalto Library in Seinäjoki

The Seinäjoki Library was designed as a part of the Aalto Centre in Seinäjoki and the building completed in 1965. Originally the public and other working spaces were mainly located on the ground floor of the building whereas storage and exhibition spaces were located downstairs. Aalto also designed the main part of the built in fixtures, furniture and light fixtures as a part of the entity of the building.

Aalto’s library functioned as the main library of the city until 2012. In 2012 the new main library Apila was completed and Aalto’s library was connected to it with a under ground passage. Aalto’s library was renovated to its original state during 2012-2015. The renovation was considered to be a great success and an example to other renovation projects. Also the furniture and the lighting for the reading room were restored during the renovation and were then installed in their original locations. Nowadays the regional collections, genealogy and a separate children’s literature department operate in the library. Arts, architecture, history and ethnology literature is also placed in Aalto’s library.

Aalto’s Seinäjoki library also has an important collection of design glass by Aino and Alvar Aalto on display in the library’s original magazine reading room. The collection is owned by the city of Seinäjoki.

Aalto’s Seinäjoki library has a very simplified façade and the strips of windows that are covered with slats dominate it. It is considered to represent a free-form hall library type. A lot of attention was given to the lighting of the building and especially in capitalizing the natural daylight. The lending desk is located right in the middle of the building. Behind it Aalto designed a lowered reading space which is a typical feature in Aalto’s libraries. The layout of the building combines forms of a rectangle and a fan, which also plays an important role in the surveillance of the building.

Espoo and Otaniemi Campus Area

Espoo, located west of Helsinki, is part of the Finnish capital region. Alvar Aalto’s most famous work in Espoo is the Otaniemi campus, now known as Aalto University. Originally known as Helsinki University of Technology, the campus was inspired by American college campuses and realised as their Finnish counterpart by Aalto. The region is under constant expansion, being close to Helsinki, but Aalto’s works remain in their original use.

The center of Otaniemi, Espoo holds a park campus constructed originally in the 1950s, with layout by Alvar Aalto and several buildings designed by him and other famous finnish architects, including Reima & Raili Pietilä and Heikki & Kaija Sirén. Otaniemi Campus is part of Aalto University, named in honor of the architect.

Otaniemi and nearby Harjuviita contain several types of buildings designed by Aalto’s office: from power plant to water tower, and mall to residences. Aalto also made unrealised plans for Espoo residential areas’ layouts.

Helsinki University of Technology main building 1949/1953-65

Alvar Aalto won the design competition for the Helsinki University of Technology in Otaniemi, Espoo, in 1949. In addition to the main campus building Aalto’s office designed several others. The main building was designed in 1953–55. The University of Technology is now part of Aalto University and the building is known as Undergraduate Centre.

Building work was begun in 1964 and the main building was inaugurated in 1966. It was built on the site of the old Otnäs manor. The main building’s stepped auditorium rising above the campus became its main focal point. The amphitheatre is a recurrent theme in Aalto’s architecture.

The main building is divided into several building units, with sheltered courtyards in between. The façade is clad in specially made dark-red brick, black granite and copper.

The design of the Otaniemi campus was intended to separate pedestrians from motorized traffic. Footpaths connect the various department buildings in a park-like setting. The entrance to the main building is easily reached via both the motorized and pedestrian routes.

The main building was later extended and substantial supplemental building still goes on in the Otaniemi area.

Campus area is open to visitors.

Helsinki University of Technology Library 1964-70

Helsinki University of Technology Library, together with the main building, forms the centre of the Otaniemi campus. The library nowadays goes by the name of the Harald Herlin Learning Centre.

The entrance to the redbrick-clad building is from the park and Otaniementie Road side. The reading room and loan library are on the second floor. The focal point of the space is the large loans counter, from beside which stairs lead down to the entrance floor.

The library interior was designed to make it pleasant to work in. The loan library and reading room get natural light indirectly from the skylights and clerestory windows. Aalto’s design also sought to keep out the noise of traffic on Otaniementie Road.

Open for library use. Campus area is open to visitors.

Otahalli Sports Hall 1949-52

The design of Otaniemi sports hall was begun in 1950 and it was first used for the summer Olympics in Helsinki in 1952. The building is known as the Otahalli.

The building originally had two parts, a small hall clad in white brick and a larger one in wood with an earth floor. The roof truss in the wooden hall spans 45 metres. Aalto planned a spectator stand to go between the halls.

Numerous changes have been made to the building over the years and it is still in its original use.

Open for use as a sports hall.

Power Plant 1960-64

The central-heating power plant on the Otaniemi university campus was built in two stages in 1960–64. The power plant in the middle the university campus is just one example of Aalto’s power-plant architecture.

The building’s façade is clad in red brick. The large windows reduce the building mass of the power station. The interior is visible through the rectangular windows. This is a manifestation of modern architecture’s romanticizing attitude to technology.

Aalto designed several power-station buildings, often in conjunction with industrial plants. The power station at Otaniemi is in a central position and prominently on display. The building has been extended and alterations have been made over the years.

Power Plant is viewable from the outside.

Alvar Aalto in Alajärvi

The city of Alajärvi in the Southern Ostrobothnia is located close to Alvar Aalto’s childhood hometown Kuortane. Aalto spent his childhood summers in Alajärvi and later had his own summer house there up to 1940s. For him Alajärvi represented leisure time with family and relatives in contrast to the hectic work at the office with all the assignments and architecture competitions. Later Aalto reminisced the place and called it his spiritual home.

In the scenic Alajärvi one can see buildings from the long span of Aalto’s career, from the earliest assignments to the last of his office. At the Alajärvi Administrative and Cultural Centre there are 11 locations, including the recently renovated Villa Väinölä, a home Aalto designed for his brother.

By the lake in Alajärvi there is the Alajärvi Church (1836), designed by the famous architect C.L. Engel. Aalto used to have a seat in the church loft in his youth. In the beautiful churchyard you can see e.g. war
memorials designed by Alvar Aalto and the Aalto family grave.

The Administrative and Cultural Centre in Alajärvi consists of two municipal offices, the Parish Centre, Youth Association building, the former Municipal Hospital, a Health Station, Villa Väinölä and the City Library, which was finished by the architect studio of Aalto.

In addition there are the three memorials and the summer house Villa Flora, that Aalto designed for him and his wife Aino Aalto. Today Villa Flora is under private ownership.

The lobby of the Alajärvi town hall houses Muodon Vuoksi, an exhibition of the classic 1930s glass design of Alvar and Aino Aalto. Alajärvi was a town dear to Aalto and he put his heart and soul into the local projects. The countryside was his retreat during the busy creative years.

Nelimarkka museum

The Nelimarkka Museum in Alajärvi was founded by the painter and professor Eero Nelimarkka (1891-1977) in 1964. The building was designed by his friend, the architect Hilding Ekelund. Since 1995 it has functioned as the Regional Art Museum of Southern Ostrobothnia. It focuses on displaying regional Ostrobothnian art but art education also plays an important role.

Temporary exhibitions, workshops and events for visitors of all ages are organized regularly. Since the mid-1980s the museum has also provided an international residency program for artists.

In summertime you can enjoy coffee and cake in the light atmosphere of Café de Nelimarkka. The museum shop is open year-round. You can book a customized tour or workshop at the museum. Nelimarkka museum maintains the near-by Villa Nelimarkka and Villa Väinölä, located in the centre of Alajärvi. Nelimarkka Museum is open all year round.

Seinäjoki Civic Centre

As an architectural whole, the Seinäjoki Civic Centre, or Administrative and Cultural Centre of Seinäjoki, is unique on a global scale. Seinäjoki is also the location of the Defence Corps Building built in 1924-26, one of the rare works from Aalto’s youth. The Administrative and Cultural Centre consists of six buildings and the Civic Square completed in 1988.

Aalto Centre

The Administrative and Cultural Centre in Seinäjoki emerged from two architectural competitions, and it was built in 1958 to 1988.

Alvar Aalto won a church architecture competition arranged by the Parish of Seinäjoki with his plan “Lakeuksien risti”, Cross of the Plains, in 1951. Seven years later, he won the design competition for the centre of Seinäjoki. Aalto was commissioned to design the town hall, library, theatre and government office building, all of which he had outlined in his competition suggestion.

Aalto’s architectural office designed not only the buildings of the Administrative and Cultural Centre but also the outdoor lighting fixtures, barriers, surface materials for yard areas and plants for the Centre.

Civic Square in Seinäjoki

Alvar Aalto’s plans for the centre of Seinäjoki were based on monumental but easily approachable squares and other open areas between public buildings. When Aalto was young, he admired the antique cultures, and this is reflected as a forum which was also influenced by the Italian piazzas.

The buildings around the Civic Square in Seinäjoki – the Town hall, Library and Seinäjoki theatre – border the square paved with granite paving and cobblestone. According to Aalto’s suggestion, the square was designed for conferences and summer meetings, and of course as a meeting place of citizens. Alvar Aalto wished that squares intended for the assembly of people would promote a “new renaissance” for the forming and exchange of opinions through social interaction.

The Aalto Centre was built gradually. The last part to be completed was the Civic Square with its fountain and plantings. The paving of the square continues on the eastern side across the street, linking the administrative and cultural buildings to the church buildings. This constitutes an overall work of art of six buildings and the square.