Who was architect and designer Alvar Aalto?

Alvar Aalto (1898–1976) is one of the internationally best-known Finnish architects and designers. During his exceptionally extensive and varied career, Aalto designed many different types of buildings, from summer villas to cultural buildings and city centre plans both in Finland and abroad.  In Jyväskylä and the surrounding area, you can find the largest amount of significant building complexes designed by Aalto in different periods. 

Born in Kuortane, Alvar Aalto moved to Jyväskylä with his family at the age of 5. In Jyväskylä, Aalto lived his childhood, went to school, and took his matriculation examination.  After graduating with an architecture degree from the Helsinki Institute of Technology, Aalto returned to Jyväskylä and in 1923, he founded his first architectural practice, “Alvar Aalto Architecture and Monumental Art Office”. The office was located in an elegant wooden building now known as Nikolainkulma in the Jyväskylä city centre.

Aalto’s early works in the 1920s followed Nordic classicism which was the prevailing trend at the time. Notable works from this period include, for example, Muurame Church (192629) and Jyväskylä Workers’ Club (192425), which is considered a landmark work of Aalto’s classical period. In the period of functionalism that followed the classical period, Aalto made his international breakthrough.  

The next peak in Aalto’s career was in the 1950s, when his architectural company was particularly employed in the design of public buildings. During that time, he created, for example, the red-brick Muuratsalo Experimental house, the buildings of the Jyväskylä College of Education (now the University of Jyväskylä) and the Säynätsalo municipal hall, which is considered one of Aalto’s most significant works. 

It was typical for Aalto to design buildings as complete works of art with furniture and lighting. For example, the Beehive lamp, which is still in production, was originally designed for the Jyväskylä College of Education. Aalto’s design work was marked by boldness, an element of surprise and a desire to experiment with different methods and materials. It was also characterised by the carefully considered relationship between the buildings and their surroundings.

In 1924, Alvar Aalto married the architect and designer Aino Marsio, who had begun to work in Alvar Aalto’s architecture office six months earlier. The couple worked together on many design projects as equal partners.  Aino and Alvar Aalto had two children. In the late 1940s, Aino Aalto died of a serious illness.  A few years later, Aalto married another colleague, the architect Elissa Mäkiniemi. After Aalto’s death, Elissa Aalto led the Alvar Aalto & Co architectural practice until 1994.

Alvar Aalto Foundation  
The Finnish National Bibliography  
Museum of Finnish Architecture