Competed in 1940, the Villa Mairea is a guest house and a rural retreat designed and built by the Finnish modernist architect Alvar Aalto for Harry and Maire Gullichsen in Noormarkku, Finland. The owners asked him to consider the house as an “experimental project.”
Villa Mairea Technical Information
- Architects: Alvar Aalto | Biography & Bibliography
- Typology: Residential / Houses
- Client: Harry and Maire Gullichsen
- Location: Noormarkku, Finland
- Design Years: 1937-1939
- Construction System: Plastered Brick Walls, Wood Siding
- Project Completion Year: 1941
- Style: Modernism
- Photographs: © Åke E: SON LINDMAN, © Mark Trueman
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
Villa Mairea Context
The building was constructed between 1938 and 1939 for The Gullichsens, a wealthy couple that was members 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 that 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 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 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 together defines 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
Villa Mairea Image Gallery
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, and glassware, as well as 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 of the early work to a rational International Style 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 give special treatment to the interior surfaces, furniture, lamps, and glassware.
- Richard Weston, Alvar Aalto, Phaidon Press 1995, p 98
- TS Eliot, ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’ Selected Essays, Faber & Faber (London) 1948