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GO VISIT: An Architects Home in Helsinki

GO VISIT: An Architects Home in Helsinki

Some time back we had the chance to visit a number of buildings in Finland by the architect Alvar Aalto. We hired a van and travelled across the country visiting a selection of well-known buildings by the celebrated Finish architect. Then, a last-minute addition to our tour, a visit to Aalto’s own home in suburban Helsinki, proved to have the greatest impression. Here we try to unravel why.

 

In the living room of the Aalto family home.

 

Alvar and Aino Aalto have long been ‘design hero’ of ours. They worked together as a couple across the fields of architecture, furniture and product design and textile design. We have always been drawn to their work. In lots of ways this trip had been kind of like an “architecture pilgrimage”

On that day, we had been in Finland for over a week, staying in campsites and visiting Aalto buildings, museums and sites. We had spent the previous night at a campsite in the beautiful port town of Hanko. We spent the morning wandering through the old timber buildings in the town centre overlooking a glittering blue sea. Then, just hours before we were to return the van to the hire company at the airport, we decided to squeeze in one more stop. We went to visit the Aalto’s own family home, in suburban Helsinki. 

And I am glad that we did. Of all of the Aalto buildings that we visited on that trip, this one has, unexpectedly, had the longest-lasting impression on us. 

 

A bench is used as step. This is the moment where you step up from the family home into the architecture office. The home and office life are side by side, yet separated by this very slight change in levels.

 

The house was designed and built by Aalto in 1935. And from the outside, this is a fairly regular house, in a comfortable Helsinki suburb. To the front the house is set back slightly from the street. To the rear there is a generous back garden. 

Inside the front door the house is divided into two separate but connected areas. There is the workspace and studio used by Alvar Aalto’s architectural firm and then the couple’s private home. Throughout the house, there are simple and natural materials softening the building’s modern architecture. The house is filled with plants and clever details.

 

Alvar Aaltos design desk in his home studio, overlooking the suburban back garden.

 

But, when I think back to this house, I find that I think mostly about this corner desk, looking out into a suburban back garden. The desk is just a few metres from the busy family living room. This, we were told, was Aaltos own design desk.

And so, standing there, I think about his legacy and the work that his studio produced. Aaltos buildings respond to their natural surroundings. His products often magnify interesting characteristics of nature and their materials. There is a harmony between the man made element and natural environment. There is always a feeling of humanity, empathy and attention to detail. The design doesn’t feel forced.

Yet when I look at this desk, in this small home office, in suburban Helsinki what I most reminded is this. Rich and poetic ideas can emerge in the most (beautiful, yes) but also mundane and domestic places. I think that Aalto’s design work is all the more richer for this.  

 

The entrance hallway and telephone desk. Curtain as used throughout to partition rooms. Curtain pattern is an Aalto design.

 

View into family dining room from living room area.

 

View from family dining room into back garden.

 

Plants sit in special boxes atop radiators, in front of windows througout.

 

The studio of Alvar Aalto architecture and design practice (from 1935 - 1955). The door in right foreground leads directly back into the family living room.

 

 

Learn more about visiting the Alvar Aalto House in Helsinki here.

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