In the district of Munkkiniemi, Helsinki, the Alvar Alto House was the building where the famous architect developed most of his life and career. Alvar and Aino Aalto designed the house at Riihitie 20 as their home and architectural office in 1935-36. The house now serves as a home museum.
The Aalto House Technical Information
- Architects: Alvar Aalto | Biography & Bibliography
- Typology: Residential / Houses
- Location: Helsinki, Finland
- Materials: Brick and Wood
- Project Completion Year: 1936
- Photographs: © Chen Hao
I tell you, it is easier to build a grand opera or a city center than to build a personal house.
– Alvar Aalto1
The Aalto House Photographs
In 1934, Aino and Alvar Aalto acquired a site in almost completely untouched surroundings at Riihitie in Helsinki’s Munkkiniemi. They started designing their own house, which was completed in August 1936. Aalto’s architect’s office was in this building until 1955.
The house was designed both as a family home and an office. The two functions can be seen from the exterior. The slender mass of the office wing is in white-painted, lightly rendered brickwork. There are still explicit references to Functionalism in the location of the windows. The cladding material of the residential part is slender, dark-stained timber battens. The building has a flat roof and a large south-facing terrace.
The natural materials soften the form language of modern architecture. Designing their own home allowed Aino and Alvar Aalto to make various structural and material experiments. With its closed street façade face in different directions, the rooms in this building have been carefully considered. Natural light and orientation of rooms and terraces were important. Main living areas open towards the south and the garden. The house has four open hearths.
The house combines modern materials and a modern vocabulary of form with tradition and gives nature a foothold in an entirely new way. The building, which was built in almost completely untouched surroundings, is an example of Aalto’s design philosophy. Making use of the natural surroundings as a starting point for his designs became Aalto’s trademark.
The interiors were elegantly furnished in every detail. Several meticulously thought features provide a glimpse of the architect couple’s life and their family and highlight the intermingling of living and working facilities. The studio and the family’s living areas have been discreetly separated from each other through material choices. This can be seen in both the façades and the interiors.
Although the house’s streetside elevation is severe and closed-off, it is softened by climbing plants and a slate path leading up to the front door. There are already signs of the ‘new’ Aalto in the Aalto House of the Romantic Functionalist. The plentiful use of wood as a finishing material and four open hearts built-in brick also point to this.
The Aalto House anticipates the Villa Mairea, a luxury residence where Aalto’s creativity could come into full bloom. But in contrast to its larger sister, the Aalto House is a cozy, intimate building for living and working, designed by two architects for themselves, using simple, uncluttered materials. Alvar Aalto lived in the house on Riihitie until his death, and the building was used by the family long afterward. The house, protected by the Act on the Protection of Buildings, is now part of the Alvar Aalto Museum and open as a home museum.
The ultimate goal of the architect…is to create a paradise. Every house, every product of architecture… should be a fruit of our endeavour to build an earthly paradise for people.
– Alvar Aalto2
Aalto House Floor plans, Sections, and Elevations
The Aalto House Gallery
About Alvar Aalto
Hugo Alvar Henrik Aalto was a Finnish architect and designer, as well as a sculptor and painter. His work includes architecture, furniture, textiles, and glassware. Aalto’s early career runs parallel with Finland’s rapid economic growth and industrialization during the first half of the twentieth century. Many of his clients were industrialists; among these were the Ahlström-Gullichsen family.
From the 1920s to the 1970s, the span of his career is reflected in the styles of his work, ranging from Nordic Classicism of the early work to a rational International Style Modernism during the 1930s to a more organic modernist style from the 1940s onwards. His furniture designs were considered Scandinavian Modern. However, what is typical for his entire career is a concern for design as a Gesamtkunstwerk, a total work of art. In that sense, he – together with his first wife, Aino Aalto – would design not just the building but also give unique treatments to the interior surfaces and design furniture, lamps, furnishings, and glassware.