Jyväskylä, the Alvar Aalto capital, has several buildings designed by Alvar Aalto throughout his long career. Which five does our Aalto expert and lifelong fan pick?
Leena Rossi is the Chairman of Alvar Aalto Foundation, the Head of Urban Planning for the City of Jyväskylä, Chairman of the Finnish Association of Architects (SAFA), and an architect who has been influenced by Alvar Aalto in many ways. Rossi was born in Säynätsalo, so Säynätsalo Town Hall and Muuratsalo Experimental House have been familiar places for her since her childhood. When studying architecture, Rossi also worked at the Alvar Aalto Museum. She wrote her thesis on Alvar Aalto’s plan for the Jyväskylä administrative quarter. When working in urban planning in Jyväskylä, in particular, Alvar Aalto is a name that comes up consistently.
We asked Rossi to pick five of her favourite Aalto sites and tell us why she chose them.
“Säynätsalo Town Hall is the one of Aalto’s buildings that I’ve spent most time in. My first visit there was at the age of two weeks for a postnatal check-up, one of my friends lived in the building and I also did my work experience at the library. What is fascinating about the Town Hall is its many uses and bringing the different functions under one architectural concept. The Town Hall is a symbol of the community and what type of place the local authorities wanted to build for the people. The use of vibrant red brick and the positioning of the building as part of the surrounding landscape make it stunning. The Town Hall is one of Aalto’s most important works and it is considered a tour de force of human-scale public building.
“The Seminaarinmäki Campus as a whole is such a fine composition, both in terms of buildings and external spaces. Aalto was inspired by the location, and the influence of the landscape of Harju is evident in the campus area in its horse-shoe arrangement of buildings and lush greenery. However, it is the Main Building that people first see when approaching the campus from the town centre. Aalto has reiterated architectural themes and motifs in the Main Building, giving them a Modern twist. The Main Building is also interesting, because of its suitability for many uses from everyday student life to academic festivities. It has hosted the Alvar Aalto Symposium, which is a major international event in the field of architecture.”
“When I was still at university, I spent a couple of summers working as an architectural guide at the museum, and one of my duties was to guide visitors at the Muuratsalo Experimental House. It was a privilege to take people to the house and to see their reactions. The Experimental House was Aalto’s summer place, where he would conduct structural and architectural experiments. The area outside the building is ideal for meditative peace and quiet, and the interiors are quite modest. One of the quirky details is the sauna built from logs.”
“I see so much potential in the Defence Corps Building. I carried out a building inventory on the site years ago and, during the process, became familiar with every last detail of it. It is one of Aalto’s early works and architecturally it forms a gateway between his Italian Classicism and his later, more streamlined Functionalism. The Defence Corps Building has seen many different uses, from a commercial building to a film theatre and office building. Unfortunately, the building has been badly neglected and it is currently not in use. I hope and anticipate that the building will one day reopen after a renovation and that people will be able to enjoy it again.”
“Aalto is less known as a housing architect, but he has had a major influence in residential building in Finland. That’s why I’ve chosen Aira House as one of my sites. It was one of the first blocks of flats in Jyväskylä and, like the Defence Corps Building, it is one of Aalto’s early designs. The buildings are very simple, but it has plenty of amusing details and decorations. The flats are spacious and the corridors wide, and the overall design is still attractive and practical.”
If you are interested in seeing any of the above sites, Rossi recommends that you join a guided tour. You will get much more out of your visit with an expert guide explaining the history and background of the design. Find guided tours here.
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