In the history of modernist architecture Alvar Aalto’s formal language exemplifies a sensitive approach to context, in contrast with the stark geometries of his avant-garde contemporaries. His buildings are often interpreted as being inspired by lakes and forests – a cliché maybe – but nevertheless there is a spatial flow, evoking organic forms, where different volumes are combined together without an obvious rationalised geometry. The Aalto Atelier is a great example of this formal approach, and is often referred to in architectural analysis through a phenomenological lens.
Aalto’s way of working has been described as very intuitive by his employees as well as his friend and biographer Göran Schildt. In the 1950s the studio was extremely busy with major commissions abroad and in Finland, which marks the mature period in Aalto’s oeuvre, when ideas and historic formal references became synthesised into a recognisable style. Certain motifs and forms from classical antiquity reappeared in Aalto’s buildings, as well as on a micro scale in his furniture designs. These were blended with details and ideas adopted from rural cultures into an idiosyncratic architectural language, beautifully expressed at the Aalto Atelier.
Tucked away behind a blank façade, the composition of the Atelier building can be compared to the traditional Islamic residence built around a central patio. Drawings from Aalto’s sketchbooks from earlier travels to Morocco and Spain show observations and details of this typology. However, Aalto was also intrigued by Finnish vernacular traditions and the Carelian farm house, which grew around a central courtyard. So the organisation of the Atelier building can be interpreted as a representation of Aalto’s diverse local and global influences.