An Alvar Aalto tour of Finland
Final stop: Jyväskylä
Located about 280km north of the Finnish capital, the architect's hometown of Jyväskylä has more Aalto buildings than any other city in the world. Here, in the 1950s, he continued his exploration of red-brick construction, especially on the campus of the University of Jyväskylä and at the Säynätsalo Town Hall.
But Aalto's most daring use of brick occurred at his own summer house, the aptly named Experimental House (open for tours June to mid-September) on the island of Muraatsalo in Jyväskylä. The L-shaped main building and a separate guest wing enclose three sides of a courtyard. While the exterior walls are white washed, the inward-facing walls are comprised of panels of various shapes and sizes -- all of them covered with brick and tile work in various patterns. These walls were a testing ground where Aalto experimented with different textures, materials and designs, playing with brick, stone and ceramic swatches and setting them against various finishes and ornamental plants.
In addition to being a summer home, this was a laboratory where the architect sought inspiration from nature and tried out new techniques. In a radical experiment which he called "building without foundations", he skipped the concrete substructure and instead built the guest wing on a pre-existing natural rock formation. This wing was also designated to experiment with solar heating, an area where Aalto was way ahead of his time.
In the 1960s, Aalto entered his “white period”, when his work was characterized by buildings with white exteriors and few windows, as exemplified by the Museum of Central Finland in Jyväskylä, completed in 1961. While the museum is a jumble of rectangular blocks stacked in seemingly haphazard ways, its defining characteristic is the plain white facade.
The white period is also on display at the nearby Alvar Aalto Museum, which the architect completed a decade later. This rectangular, windowless block grabs attention with its vertically-aligned tile work -- all in white -- which creates a rich texture when it catches the sunlight. The skylights covering the roof provide interior lighting, as well as additional height inside and out.
The museum's permanent exhibition is dedicated to Aalto's buildings and interior design pieces, as well as his personal life. More importantly, the building is a venue for temporary exhibitions, workshops and forums that continue to promote innovation and experimentation in Finnish design and architecture. In all respects, it is a fitting cap on Aalto's long and illustrious career.