Alvar Aalto Kymenlaakso Cycling Route

Kymenlaakso is the single region in Finland with the most buildings designed by Alvar Aalto. If Jyväskylä is called the Aalto capital, Kymenlaakso can rightly be called the Aalto region. In total, Kymenlaakso has dozens of buildings designed by Alvar Aalto: detached houses, apartment buildings and blocks of flats, as well as industrial plants.

On the cycle route you can discover Alvar Aalto’s architecture of the 1930s-1950s in Karhula, Sunila, Hamina and Inkeroinen.

Most of the buildings designed by Alvar Aalto were placed freely in the landscape, taking into account the shapes of the terrain. As a result, the connection to nature is a natural continuum for the views of the houses and apartments. Nature, light and their connection to the dwellings were important to Aalto. The overall architectural approach and the typical elements of Aalto’s formal language are repeated in all the Aalto projects in Kymenlaakso.

Aalto succeeded in adapting his buildings to nature and adding both creativity and artistry to their austere simplicity, and even today people are still attracted to Aalto buildings.

A tourist interested in architecture, history and design can easily spend several days exploring the buildings designed by Alvar Aalto, but also stay overnight in apartments designed and decorated in his style.

There are 4 areas on this route with buildings designed by Aalto:

Inkeroinen factory area

The buildings designed by Alvar Aalto for the Inkeroinen Factory Hill were completed between 1937 and 1956. The complex consists of factory buildings, semi-detached houses on the Rantalinja, terraced houses on the Tervalinja, three detached houses, three blocks of flats, a school on the Tehtaanmäki and detached houses on the Karhunkangas.

Hamina Petkele residential area

In Hamina, you can discover the environment of the Summa paper mill designed by Alvar Aalto and the housing designed by him for the paper mill workers and management in the Petkele residential area.

Apartment buildings in Karhula

Alvar Aalto’s design in Karhula is represented by the apartment buildings completed on Karhunkatu between 1945 and 1947, known as the ‘tennis houses’.

Sunila factory and working-class housing area

Alvar Aalto’s handiwork is immediately recognisable from the moment you arrive in the extensive and coherent residential area. The factory, completed in 1938, and the adjacent residential area, originally built between 1937 and 1939, form a whole whose design clearly shows the influence of Alvar Aalto’s 1930s modernism.

For more details and directions see the route in Outdoor Active

By Visit Kotka-Hamina

Scandinavia in Berlin and Wolfsburg

Take part on a three-day tour, where you get to spend two days in Berlin and one in Wolfsburg. On this tour you can admire and get to know the architecture, landscapes and sights accompanied by an exclusive English-speaking guide. During the tour, you will also get to experience a few interesting buildings that Alvar Aalto designed in Germany.

The tour begins by exploring Berlin, a city where there is definitely plenty to see and do. The first two days of the program provide an in-depth tour of the city’s interesting architecture and attractions. You will also get to enjoy the exciting atmosphere of the city and also do some shopping while you are at it. After taking over Berlin, the tour continues on a day trip towards the city of Wolfsburg, which has a lot to offer in particular for Aalto enthuastictics.

Aerola Terraced Houses in Vantaa

When Finland was selected to host the 1952 Summer Olympics, it also contributed to the construction of the current Helsinki-Vantaa Airport. Scheduled air traffic in Finland had also grown rapidly at the turn of the 1940s and 1950s. Malmi Airport, which had been completed in 1936, was no longer able to meet the growing demand, and a decision was taken to build a new airport. The Helsinki-Vantaa Airport (1952) was completed just a little over a month before the start of the Olympics, and soon afterwards Alvar Aalto’s Architect Office was commissioned to design employment housing for the staff of Finnair’s predecessor Aero Oy in proximity to the new airport.

In early drafts from 1952, the terraced houses of Aerola were originally placed right next to the brand new airport. Later, in 1953, the site for the new residential area was relocated to its current location, a little further from the airport. Aerola’s terraced house complex consists of two identical 2-storey terraced houses stepping on a slope, each comprising 20 apartments of different sizes.

Entrances open on both sides: the west side gives access to the studios and one three-room apartment located on the south end of the building, while the three-room and one four-room apartments, which develop on two floors, have entrances on the east side. Each apartment has an independent entrance fronting onto a small courtyard area. The garages are located at the end of the buildings, and the basements include separate storage rooms for all of the dwellings. In the middle of the plot, between the two rows of houses, stands an L-shaped building that houses the sauna, laundry room and heating centre.

This whitewashed building complex was constructed between 1953-55, originally planned as part of a larger entity, which also included four apartment buildings and a few detached houses. After the first phase consisting of the terraced houses and the sauna and laundry building, however, the project was not developed further, and a vocational school was later built on the site.

Aerola’s terraced houses complex is an important historical entity within the city of Vantaa. In order to protect it, the city even altered an originally approved redevelopment plan in 2008. In addition, some elements of the interiors of the apartments are also protected by law. The year 2018 saw the beginning of renovation works in Aerola under plans made by the architectural firm A-Konsultit in connection with the Vantaa City Museum and the Alvar Aalto Foundation. Renovation of the first terraced house was completed in the spring of 2020 and renovations of the second house have since begun.

Hansaviertel Apartment building “Haus 16”

The Hansaviertel residential area in West Berlin was built for the 1957 Interbau Building Exhibition. After the devastation of World War II, the area was rebuilt following principles of international Architectural Modernism. 53 architects from 14 different countries were invited to the project, Alvar Aalto being one of them. In Aalto’s office, design work for the apartment building began in 1954. Aalto made plans for several potential sites around the exhibition area until it was decided to build the “Haus 16” project right in the heart of Hansaviertel, near Hansaplatz Underground Station.

The design of the building was innovative. The building tilts slightly to the west and opens more to the east, allowing natural light to reach all of the apartments. Viewed from the west, the building looks straightforward, but from the east it appears as if it were two separate house buildings. In the middle between the two main bodies, the column-supported, open and covered outdoor atrium connects the opposite sides of the building. This space connects to two separate staircases and elevators, reaching the several floors of the building. This covered outdoor space also gives access to the common courtyard.

The lower floor of the building has 4 apartments on each side and the upper floors each feature 5 apartments. There are 8 floors in the building, which means that there are 78 apartments in total. The largest apartments are 83-90m² in area, and the smallest ones 35m². The building features more larger apartments than smaller ones. The largest apartments were designed according to a familiar courtyard structure, with different spaces grouped around a general purpose room, usually used as a living room, placed in the center. Balconies were also provided to all apartments, to create open-air liveable space for the residents. During the 1957 Interbau exhibition, one of the apartments in the building was open for visits, furnished with Artek furniture.

The Hansaviertel area consists mainly of high-rise apartment buildings and of some smaller residential buildings. Placement of buildings was designed in order to maximise natural daylight exposure and good park views for the apartments. Most of the buildings in the area are of concrete construction and feature predominantly white and gray color.

Aalto sites in Kouvola

Alvar Aalto’s most prominent works in Kouvola are located in Inkeroinen within the area of the Ankkapurha Culture Park. The buildings designed by Aalto in Tehtaanmäki, Inkeroinen date back to 1937 to 1956. These include the industrial buildings of the Anjala Paper Mill and the Tampella Co. Housing Area, including Rantalinja semi-detached houses, Tervalinja terraced houses, three engineering personnel houses and housing blocks for the workers of the mill. While in Kouvola, also make sure to check the Kasarminmäki gateposts, which the young architect designed for the garrison area when he was doing his military service.

The area is complemented by the Tehtaanmäki Primary School finished in 1940 and the Karhunkangas housing area of single-family homes, where most of the residential buildings were completed in 1938. The Tehtaanmäki Primary School is the only elementary school designed by Alvar Aalto that is still in its original use. The town plan designed by Aalto in 1937 covered the entire centre of Inkeroinen, but only the Karhunkangas area and the area adjacent to the mill were ever implemented.

The centre of Kouvola is also an interesting attraction to architecture enthusiasts. The administrative centre of Kouvola representing modernism is a nationally significant built cultural environment catalogued by the National Board of Antiquities. The Town Hall of Kouvola (Bertel Saarnio, Juha Leiviskä, 1964 to 1968, 1969) is an outstanding work of modern architecture classified by the international DOCOMOMO organisation.

The renovated pedestrian street Manski with its shops and cafeterias beckons you to have a cup of coffee and a rest. Those craving for culture make their way to explore the high-standard exhibitions of the Kouvola Art Museum belonging to the Poikilo Museums, and the museum building flooded with light.

Wood, Water & Workshop in Kouvola

Experience the industrial Tehtaanmäki and create your own mindscape. The tour takes you to the Ankkapurha Cultural Park, besides the foams of the River Kymijoki and the Tehtaanmäki residential area. At the Art Centre Antares in the countryside sceneries of Sippola the tour culminates into a workshop and exhibition. On this tour, you can be inspired by the layers of history and create something new of your experiences.

The tour takes you to the industrial community at Tehtaanmäki and presents you the residential area designed by Alvar Aalto. The region is filled with history of the woodworking industry from the 1870s onwards. Tehtaanmäki contains the traditional and the modern – Aalto was hired in the 1930s to design the Anjala Paper Mill and homes for the mill workers. A new type of working-class world was created: verdant and communal area built near the river, providing a setting for housing, school, interests and work.

You will be guided through the residential area, where the houses are still used for their original purpose. The Anjala Paper Mill Aalto designed is also in operation. After the tour we take a boat trip along the River Kymijoki and have a cup of coffee served beside campfire. Accommodation takes place on the grounds of an old manor. In the evening you can relax in sauna by the river.

On the second day, it is your turn! You will be taken to an art workshop at the local Art Center Antares nearby. Interpretate all what you have seen and experienced, in your way and personal style.

Varkaus – industrial history, Lake Saimaa waterways and caviar

Lake Saimaa waterways that extend to the city centre, a lush natural environment and many destinations offer holidaymakers many opportunities in the Varkaus region. Specialties include the city’s own caviar, sturgeon delicacies, tattoo art and culture in Varkaus Tattoo museum, as well as the home of amazing instruments, the Museum of Mechanical Music.

Renowned building planners, including Ivar and Valter Thomé, Karl Lindahl and Alvar Aalto, were responsible for the urban landscape of the city of Varkaus in the first half of the twentieth century. The city built around industry has a unique architecture. This rich cultural history is presented by the museums of Varkaus and the online exhibits of the museums, theme tours by Guide’s of Varkaus, and by a walking tour of Vanha Varkaus (Old Varkaus).

If you want to admire the lakeland scenery you can take a cruise or a trip on a canoe. Fishing is possible in the middle of the city in Pirtinvirta waterway or in the extensive 3 000 hectare fishing area nearby. The Linnansaari and Kolovesi national parks nearby are paradises for boaters, and are also home to the famous Saimaa ringed seal. Watch the canal locks operating in the canal district of Taipale and learn stories about the construction of the canal in the Canal Museum.

Alvar Aalto’s industrial landscape in Varkaus

In Varkaus, you can get to know an old industrial town where Alvar Aalto’s influence is still vivid. He started as the designer of the Varkaus Mills in the mid-1930s and continued in this role for about 10 years. There were also a number of plans that never materialised. You will also see other old building history of Varkaus, enjoy the natural environment in the Lake Saimaa waterways and savour food indigenous of the Savo region.

Alvar Aalto, a trailblazer in functionalism, used his design to achieve a more progressive and equal society. In the 1940s, he assumed post-war reconstruction and its sensible implementation as his other key objectives. In Varkaus, Aalto drew up designs ranging from industrial buildings and town plans to the homes of ordinary people. The Varkaus house factory manufactured hundreds of standardised houses designed by him. These were erected in all parts of Finland.

The bicentennial industrial history of Varkaus is evident in the appearance of the town. Over the years, Varkaus has been the host of successful iron and engineering works, shipyards, sawmills, wood-processing plants and paper mills. The Varkaus of today is also renowned for its expertise in energy technology.

Part of the former industrial area has been converted into a modern fishery centre. Varkaus is able to offer rainbow trout, sturgeon and caviar grown in an environmentally benign manner in the waters of Lake Saimaa.

Industrial history is supplemented by the Museum of Mechanical Music, which presents the international history of mechanical music from the 19th century to the present day.

National Pensions Institute, Housing Area

Seen in the cityscape the redbrick high-rise blocks form an integrated whole. Alvar Aalto designed these blocks of flats in Munkkiniemi, Helsinki, for the employees of the Social Insurance Institution of Finland. The collaboration with the National Pensions Insitute and the Aalto’s had already begun a couple years before. Aino and Alvar Aalto won the architectural competition to design an office complex for the National Pensions Institute in Helsinki in 1949. Nowadays these buildings are operated by a normal housing cooperative.

In total there are 4 high-rise buildings and they are located on Riihitie 12-14 and Tallikuja 2-4. The layout of the buildings as well as their volume and details form a rich housing complex to the neighborhood. Three of the four buildings are rectangular but one located on the corner has a meandering lay out.  

The four and five storey buildings were sited beside the street, leaving plenty of room for the buildings’ yard area. The idea was that the buildings would shelter the yard area from the traffic in the street. Aalto planned a paved, open area – a piazza – adjoining the buildings, with a fountain. The fountain and small day-care centre building also planned to go beside the piazza were not built. The open area, raised slightly above street level, and the other yard and street areas form a nuanced whole. Originally a grocery store operated in the ground floor of one of the buildings. This public composition was accentuated with a arcade corridor on the street side elevation. Nowadays some of the ground floors of the buildings are occupied by various offices.

The quite light tone of the the red brick were designed especially for these block of flats in H.G. Paloheimo Oy. The housing area is view-able from the outside.

Aalto knew Munkkiniemi well. At the start of the 1930s, he designed a residential area for the M.G. Stenius company, but it was not built. He was also a member of the Munkkiniemi building committee in 1937–39. Both The Aalto House and Studio Aalto are also located in Munkkiniemi.

Summa paper mill and housing area in Hamina

Hamina – military history, circular town plan and the Summa paper mill

Hamina is a beautiful city, where the sights are within easy reach. The old city centre is based on an unique, circular town plan and it is surrounded by a star-shaped fortress. Visitors can enjoy a view of the city and observe the history from the ramparts of the fortifications. A restored central bastion of the fortress, the Hamina Bastion, functions as an arena for large-scale public events. Hamina Tattoo, the International Military Music Festival, takes place every other year.

The Summa paper mill and the adjoining residential area Petkele are designed by Alvar Aalto 1951–53 (ext. 1957, 1970–72) . Petkele is located outside the city centre and it was designed as a neighbourhood for the managers and workers of the paper factory. The original machine halls 1 and 2 of the mill are also designed by Aalto.

Sunila Sulphate Pulp Mill and Residential Area

The Sunila pulp mill and the adjoining residential area designed by Alvar Aalto are masterpieces of modern architecture. The pulp mill was said to be the most beautiful in the world and it was presented at the World’s Fair of Paris in 1937 and of New York in 1939. The mill or the head office with the original interior designed by Aino Aalto unfortunately cannot be visited.

The Sunila project (1936–38, 1947, 1951–54) is the largest that was completed according to the original plans of Aalto. Sunila is located on the estuary of river Kymi, by the Gulf of Finland. The residential area is spacious and close to nature, the houses blend in the pine trees and green fields. In addition to the 12 terraced houses and apartment buildings there is the manager’s residence Kantola, a sauna by the sea and several maintenance buildings. The Sunila residential area is protected by law due to its architectural values.

Read more: Experience the Alvar Aalto cycling route in Kotka and Hamina

One of the largest industry investments of its time

Sunila is the most extensive project realised closely according to Aalto’s plans. The area is considered to be a culturally valuable built environment and the regulations in the detailed regional plan guarantees the architectural conservation.

The southeastern Finland industrialized rapidly when several sawmills were built on river Kymi from the 1870s onwards. In the economic boom of the mid-thirties five companies within the paper industry decided to start together a new sulphate cellulose mill in Sunila. There was also a need for housing for the employees of the new company.

One of the five companies cooperating in the pulp mill project was Ahlström, whose manager, Harry Gullichsen, was a friend of the architect Alvar Aalto. Gullichsen was also chairman of the board of the Sunila Company and thus influential in appointing Aalto for the project. At that time Aalto had already gained international fame. The Aalto-Gullichsen friendship evolved around a common interest in modern ideas about architecture, art, technology and social progress. Lauri Kanto, the technical manager at the nearby Halla pulp mill, was appointed leader of the planning team, with Aulis Kairamo as chief engineer. These four men worked in unison to build an industrial community with state-of-the-art technology, housing and social facilities. The building of the mill began in 1936, the residential area in 1937 and pulp production started in 1938.

Sunila, the first “Forest Town” in Finland was a model for planning the housing in the post-war Finland. Until the 1960s Sunila was as a traditional and hierarchical industrial community, yet a modern neighbourhood with welfare services. The company took care of its employees for instance by offering health insurance fund and enabling sport activities. The rowing team of the local sport club Sunilan Sisu won the bronze medal at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics.

The Sunila town plan is based on the free placement of buildings and the interaction between the built and the natural environment. The arrangement of buildings is fan-shaped, so that there is a landscape view from every apartment. The surrounding nature is lush and barren at the same time, characterized by pines.

Go east from Helsinki and visit the Kotka – Hamina region!

The Kotka – Hamina region is situated on the southeast coast of Finland, only 1 hour drive from Helsinki. The cities of Kotka and Hamina and the towns nearby are attractive seaside destinations with relaxed lifestyle and maritime culture. See the interesting exhibitions of the Maritime Centre Vellamo, explore the history outdoors in the Salpa defence line and the former military zone islands. Enjoy the river Kymi, the seaside nature and urban gardens, visit the beautiful churches and other sights. Experience authentic landscapes and historical milieus. We know all this sounds a bit too much to take, but hey, we recommend to stay a little longer with us!

Read more: Visit Kotka-Hamina

Alvar Aalto in Jyväskylä

In Jyväskylä, the city of lakes and hills in the heart of the Finnish Lakeland, you’ll find the largest number of masterful buildings in the whole world designed by the world-famous architect and academician Alvar Aalto.

The impressive portfolio of 28 locations includes, for instance, the Alvar Aalto Museum, Muurame Church and Säynätsalo Town Hall, which is regarded as one of Aalto’s finest works.

Alvar Aalto also went to school, started a family and began his illustrious career in Jyväskylä. The city of Jyväskylä is home to Aalto creations from the very start of his career right through to designs from his final years.

In Jyväskylä you’ll tread in the master’s footsteps from classicism to functionalism and from brick architecture to monumentalism. Jyväskylä offers you a vast selection of guided tours and interesting visits either on foot, by bike or by boat!

Jyväskylä is also perfectly suited for conferences. The city is lively due to the University and it offers a selection of restaurants and venues for all kind of events. The Finnish Lakeland, being the Sauna Region of the World, guarantees various possibilities for groups of all sizes.

One point of interest is the swimming hall designed by Alvar Aalto. Back then it was one of the very first swimming halls in Finland. It was later enlarged and now the AaltoAlvari Aquatic Centre houses sport and spa services, with various pools like rapid and wave pools, a hot tub, a water slide and diving boards.

Located at a hub of excellent connections, Jyväskylä is highly accessible from practically anywhere.

Mill Manager’s Residence Kantola and Seaside Sauna in Sunila

Former mill manager’s house Kantola was built in 1937, and it’s located in the residential area of Sunila, in the city of Kotka. Kantola has its own park-like yard with pine trees and a unique view towards the sea and the Sunila pulp mill. Sunila mill was once told to be the most beautiful mill in the world.

Kantola is available for groups to visit all the year round, but the visit must be booked in advance. Events held in Kantola may affect the availability. Kantola’s spaces are also available for meetings and get-togethers, and there is plenty of beautiful and unique space to set up an exhibition or some other event in the main building or the yard. You can use Kantola for small private meetings or bigger events up to 80 people. There is a seaside sauna which is made from logs, with room for 10 people. The view from the sauna’s terrace is wonderful, when looking at the mill’s silhouette and lights against the night sky.