July 28 2011

Can Modern Architecture and Traditional Co-Exist? Alvar Aalto’s Summer Homes

While Alvar Aalto is famous for his contributions to modernist architecture, he also designed and built numerous summer homes for his clients and himself.  While most modern architects work with steel and concrete, Aalto focused on timber constructions and warm interiors with attention to detail. These cottages combine a modern aesthetic with traditional vernacular influences from Nordic and Germanic spheres.

In 1926, Aalto built his first summer cottage in Alajärvi, Finland called Villa Flora. He, with his wife Aino as a design partner, created the house as a total work of art. The exterior along with furnishings, and interiors were designed to coalesce together to form a unified whole. The structure resembles an elongated farmhouse with a traditional Scandinavian turf roof. Running the length of the house on the lakeside is a covered arcade. The detailing on the interior of the home sets it apart. Simple wood furniture and fixtures, custom built, populate the interior. Built-in drawers and galley bunks in the children’s addition are evocative of functional sailboat cabins. Aalto’s personal style seeps through the seemingly traditional design.

Aalto’s second summer retreat in Muuratsalo Finland , aptly named Experimental House, was built in 1952. His first wife had died in 1949 and the new structure would serve as a getaway for himself and his new wife, Elissa. This cottage shows the development of Aalto’s architectural style from an earlier Nordic classicism to a more playful vernacular take on modernism. This structure was a laboratory to test new construction methods and architectural theories. The house is laid out around a courtyard with a central fire pit. The courtyard itself is tiled in over fifty types of brick layouts to test their durability in the harsh Finnish winters.

Architecture critic Sigfried Giedion, in his analysis of Aalto, noted, “Finland is with Aalto wherever he goes.” Though Aalto developed and changed style throughout his career he imparted a distinctive atmosphere into all his projects.  Of these works, his summer homes, with their elegant attention to detail both inside and out, are among his most strikingly Finnish.

Based on Aalto’s treatment of the Scandinavian cottage, can modern and traditional co-exist?


Jordan Meerdink

Jordan Meerdink, a former GSP blogger, is a graduate of the The Ohio State University. He holds a B.S. in Architecture with a minor in studio art. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Jordan inherited an early interest in mechanics and construction from his grandfather, a developer who was one of the early practitioners of prefabricated housing, and his father who is a retired store owner and highly capable D.I.Yer. Currently living in New York City, he continues to produce art and furniture with a focus on smart, ecologically responsible design. Jordan has a special concern for design that serves people outside the traditional clientele of architects, with an interest in architecture that deviates from the beaten path, ranging from Baroque churches to dismantled bomb shelters.

This entry was posted on Thursday, July 28th, 2011 at 8:11 am and is filed under Architecture, Engineering, Environmental Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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