Exterior view of Villa Mairea by Alvar Aalto
Facade | © Åke E: SON LINDMAN

Completed in 1940, the Villa Mairea is a magnificent example of modernist architecture designed and built by the renowned Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. Commissioned by Harry and Maire Gullichsen, this rural retreat serves as a guest house in Noormarkku, Finland. The owners requested Aalto to approach the design as an “experimental project,” which allowed him to push the boundaries of traditional architecture and create a unique and innovative building.

Villa Mairea Technical Information

After all, nature is a symbol of freedom. Sometimes nature actually gives rise to and maintains the idea of freedom. If we base our technical plans primarily on nature we have a chance to ensure that the course of development is once again in a direction in which our everyday work and all it’s forms will increase freedom rather than decrease it.

– Alvar Aalto 1

Villa Mairea Photographs

Facade of Villa Mairea by Alvar Aalto
Exterior View, © Mark Trueman | TRUEMAN DESIGN STUDIO
Access to Villa Mairea by Alvar Aalto
Interior wood stair of Villa Mairea by Alvar Aalto
Interior wood library of Villa Mairea by Alvar Aalto
Living room of Villa Mairea by Alvar Aalto
Corridor of Villa Mairea by Alvar Aalto
Wood columns inside Villa Mairea by Alvar Aalto

Aalto’s design for the Villa Mairea is characterized by his signature use of organic forms, natural materials, and innovative engineering solutions. The building is considered one of Aalto’s masterpieces and is widely recognized as one of Finland’s finest examples of modernist architecture. Today, the Villa Mairea continues to inspire architects and designers and is a testament to Aalto’s legacy as one of the most influential architects of the 20th century.

The Cultural and Historical Context of Villa Mairea

The building was constructed between 1938 and 1939 for The Gullichsens, a wealthy couple that was member of the Ahlström family. They told Aalto that he should regard it as ‘an experimental house.’ Aalto treated the house as an opportunity to bring together all the themes he had been working on until that point but had not included in actual buildings.

The plan of the villa takes Mairea L-shaped fond but is slightly modified. It is a plan that automatically creates a semi-private area on the side and more public space on the other. The lawn and pool are located in the L’s hollow, with a range of rooms oriented in the same direction. The door overhang in the overall composition meets the site’s flat expanses, and the curves of the pool lines embrace the topography of the surrounding forest.

In contrast to these shapes giving some softness to the overall structure, the main façade is rigid and formal. There’s even a canopy repeated in the garden with a pergola incorporating the assembly’s vocabulary, with studs, lath, and fasteners. The interiors of the villa Mairea subtly play with wood, stone, and bricks. The spaces have different dimensions, ranging from very generous spaces to a cabin.

The special form concept associated to the architecture of this building is included in the deliberate connection attempted here to modern painting.

– Alvar Aalto

Although the revised plan followed the existing foundations, the transformation achieved compression and coherence in the spatial organization, which had been almost entirely lacking in the ‘Proto-Mairea.’ The entrance opens into a small top lobby, from which another door straight ahead leads into an open hall positioned four steps below the main level. One enters on the axis with the dining table beyond. Still, the axiality is undermined by the asymmetry of a screen of wooden poles and a free-standing, angled wall, which define an informal ante-room between the living room and dining room.

The low wall angle is set from the corner of the white-plastered fireplace diagonally opposite, which becomes the natural center of attention as one ascends the step into the living room. Similar diagonal relationships are established between Harry Gullichsen’s private library/study and the ‘winter garden’ (which Maire used for flower arranging and from which a stair leads directly up to her studio) and between the main staircase and open sun-lit part of the living room into which eyes are drawn as you emerge from behind the vertical poles which screen the stairs.

Meaningful buildings arise from tradition and they constitute and continue tradition. […] No architect worthy of his craft works alone; he works with the entire history of architecture ‘in his bones’.

– TS Eliot 2

Villa Mairea Plans

Floor plan Villa Mairea Plans
Floor Plan of the House | © Alvar Aalto

About Alvar Aalto

Alvar Aalto (1898 -1976) was a Finnish architect, city planner, and furniture designer whose international reputation rests on a distinctive blend of modernist refinement, indigenous materials, and personal expression in form and detail. His work includes architecture, furniture, textiles, glassware, sculptures, and paintings. He never regarded himself as an artist, seeing painting and sculpture as “branches of the tree whose trunk is architecture.”  

From the 1920s to the 1970s, his career is reflected in his work styles, ranging from Nordic Classicism in the early work to a rational International Style of Modernism during the 1930s to a more organic modernist style 1940s onwards. A typical concern during his entire career is design as a Gesamtkunstwerk, a total work of art. Together with his first wife, Aino Aalto, he would design the building and give special treatment to the interior surfaces, furniture, lamps, and glassware.

Full Biography | Works from Alvar Aalto

  1. Richard Weston, Alvar Aalto, Phaidon Press 1995, p 98
  2. TS Eliot, ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’ Selected Essays, Faber & Faber (London) 1948