An Analysis of the Work of Finnish Architect Alvar Aalto

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Much work has been done on the meaning and significance of Alvar Aalto’s work in recent years, but this generally takes the form of identifying motifs, and broad motivations. Little specific interpretation has been teased out. That argument that is developed here is that Alvar Aalto’s work, as a whole, is characterized by referential and narrative devices which he uses to “tell” architectural stories. These stories contain several broad themes which he developed, and returned to again and again throughout his life. His individual buildings can be seen as essays, or stories which articulate these themes.


“While the work of the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto is often characterized as the product of a singular vision, in many ways its author may also be considered as the quintessential modernist. The qualities of ambiguity and multivalency which give Aalto’s buildings their richness and mystery are also characteristic themes in much twentieth century art and music; and no twentieth-century architect was better able than Aalto to create works whose essence resisted definition from a single vantage point, whose identity as both whole and fragment was in such constant and open-ended tension.
... From the outset, it is clear that this book will not be a further study into the virtuosity of Aalto’s formal themes and their many variations, as alluring as such investigations may be. Rather, this is to be an inquiry into the nature of the meanings conveyed through the agency of these formal strategies ...” – (from the Preface) Bruce MacNelly, Principal, MacNelly Cohen Architects, Massachusetts

Table of Contents

List of Figures
List of Photographs
1. Aalto's Own - Introduction
2. The Deep Hut - Aalto's Own House (1934-36) and the Transformational Aesthetic
3. Tall Tale - Aalto's Summer House (1953) and the Lost History
4. Liminal Domains - Aalto's Own Architectural Office (1955-62) and Contested Terrains
5. Moving Monument - The Enzo-Gutzeit Building (1959-1962) and its Tropes
6. The Landscape of Community - The Town Plan at Seinäjoki (1958-1987) and the Concept of Civic Landscape
7. Libraries of the Land - Two Libraries: at Seinajoki (1960-1965), at Roveniemi (1961-1968) and the Significance of Re-Embedding
8. The Forest of Knowledge - The Library at Otaniemi (1964-1969) and Narrative Structure
9. Aalto's Arc - Conclusion

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