Säynätsalo Town Hall

Story in brief

In brief

  • architect: Alvar Aalto
  • administrative building completed in 1952
  • located in Central Finland, 15 kilometres from Jyväskylä
  • red-brick used as exterior and interior material

Säynätsalo is an island in Lake Päijänne, where the Town Hall is considered one of Alvar Aalto’s master works of his red-brick period. Aalto’s architectural concept was planned as a multifunctional building, a network offering a range of services, all under one roof. When Säynätsalo was incorporated to the city of Jyväskylä in 1993, the building’s original administrative role was erased and it seemed neglected. Since 1995, all damaged parts have been carefully repaired and the historic status preserved.

When earlier in 2021 the Alvar Aalto Museum in Jyväskylä was closed for renovations, the museum operations were transferred to the former town hall. Although this is a temporary arrangement until 2023, it seems like an ideal home for the museum. As educational curator Lotta Leskelä points out, the building offers a unique spatial experience, representing key concepts in Aalto’s architecture and artistic language, which can be observed here in real time.

Referred to and described in many architectural texts and essays, the town hall building exemplifies the golden age of Aalto’s architectural practice. His aesthetic approach was synthesised into a particular language, an organic version of 20th century modernism, inspired by nature and materiality, as well as vernacular Italian architecture. The way the building sits in the landscape, with a central courtyard above the ground level surrounded by the building, shows Aalto’s particular skill in creating formal connections with the site. The tower can also be imagined as a model for some iconic contemporary red-brick buildings, such as the Tate Modern extension by Herzog de Meuron, which has the appearance of a deconstructed version of this iconic building.

Some of the residential quarters of the former town hall are now operated as a small hotel. The building has seen a steady stream of visitors, especially during the summer months. It’s a popular destination for researchers and architecture aficionados. There is also a residency programme. Architecture tours and accommodation can be booked through Tavolo Bianco.

Marianna Wahlsten

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