He built wild, magical buildings and furniture that are exciting to this day, but a new film suggests that the famous Finn was also a dominant Philander who was deeply indebted to his talented women

Sun 21 Mar 2021 1500 GMT

Wonky lumps of misshapen, burnt bricks burst from a block of student housing in Cambridge, Massachusetts, giving the long wall that meanders the Charles River a warty look. “The worst bricks in the world,” the Finnish architect described Alvar Aalto used the local New England materials he used for his Baker House dormitories at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1947. It was meant as a compliment – he loved their twisted, blackened, brutal texture that gave the walls the look of coarse tweed / p>

The pockmarked wall is one of many weird and beautiful things featured in a new documentary about Aalto, Finland’s most famous designer export and one of the most famous architects of the 20th century Century, which has built on his career, treated obsessive attention to material details, always thinking about the human experience of moving through a building and thinking about everything from the feel of a leather-wrapped door handle to the pleasure of a misshapen brick / p>

The film follows in the footsteps of a number of other films about modern masters, such as Finding the Real Louis Kahn that his son made or the sycophantic biography of Lord Norman Foster who has the shine of a promotional video This Lies somewhere between the two, full of admiration for the work of the charismatic Finn, with home theater films spliced ​​with dreamy drone shots of his buildings, but not without revealing his less likable sides

Filmed by director Virpi Suutari, the film underscores the pivotal contribution made by Aalto’s women – first Aino and later Elissa – whose work has often been downplayed in the familiar narrative of the male solo genius by one of the movie’s many narrators as being Described as a “necessary balancing element” in Aalto’s otherwise “bohemian and unpredictable” life, it later becomes clear that Aino was indeed a crucial part of the Aalto studio, and Bohemian is a diplomatic way of putting it

As well as being a skilled architect, Aino Aalto was also a trained carpenter, which Alvar wasn’t.She designed many of the interiors of the buildings and was involved in developing the pioneering bentwood furniture that made Aalto a famous name internationally Chief designer and managing director of Artek, the company she founded in 1935 to manufacture her housewares It produced hundreds of textiles, lamps, and glassware – many of which are still on sale and have since been copied by countless other companies

That ribbed Ikea mug in your kitchen cabinet? It is a discount from Aino Aalto. Her contribution apparently also reached deep into the architecture. “Regardless of how the drawings are signed, they clearly worked as a team,” says one narrator. “We will never know where the separation between the two is lies ”

Aino was told, who went to work every day while Alvar stayed at home in his studio. “I remember that he had an endless amount of time,” says his daughter about photos of her father who is lying on a day bed and sunbathing on the beach “He’s had the occasional coffee break, he hummed, then went to his office to draw a line or two, and then came back again, while Aino is constantly shown juggling work and kids. A voice says it bluntly.” from: “Alvar thought it was Aino’s job to take care of him first, and then the children came and then their work”

We hear emotional letters the couple wrote to each other while they were traveling abroad to work, suggesting Aalto’s philandering, “You have to commit a lot of sin before we even are,” he writes He finishes another letter: “Then go to bed (no girls)” As for his drinking, Aino pleads for “not as many cocktails as last time” Another narrator remembers the architect’s “erotic approach to life and work”, about shots of topless dancers in a kind of burlesque cabaret show We have to fill in the gaps

Perhaps he learned such behavior from Frank Lloyd Wright We are told that Aalto “completely changed” as a person after meeting him Gone was the casual Finnish country attire that was instead replaced with double-breasted suits, we hear of the Finn’s charming, sociable nature and ability to network, tell stories and play games, which earned him the reputation of a sought-after speaker. His friendship with Laurance Rockefeller led to an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1938, which catapulted the Aalto brand into the spotlight, their Finnish pavilion at the New York World’s Fair the following year, causing a sensation and causing Aalto furniture designs to become the most popular modern furniture brand in the US by the late 1940s

After Aino’s death from cancer in 1949, we see Aalto devoting himself entirely to work and immersing himself in an energetic stroll through building. He wins major competitions for the Helsinki University of Technology, the National Pensions Institute and Säynätsalo – den Town Hall last enchanting citizen complex, embedded in a forest, like a Sylvan parliament for Ewoks “Man is just as much a part of nature as pines and birches,” said Aalto. “This is where the scales come from. I can’t ignore it do I have to adapt to the current human dimensions ”

In the 1950s he dealt with standardized living in Germany to give the plans a feeling of human-centered flexibility and to adapt the system to the specifics of his location. He loathed what he called the “vulgar functionalism” of so many prefabricated houses in these Time called, preferring to introduce curves and irregular angles wherever possible. When someone asked him which module he was using and which standardized construction system it was referring to, he replied, “One millimeter Today’s visit to his buildings, the meticulous dedication Little things and the craftsmanship of natural materials are even more of a tonic compared to the dullness and systematization of so much contemporary building work

His second wife, Elissa, gets less insight, but we hear the domineering architect trying to shape her into the image of Aino, even changing her hairstyle and insisting that she only wear black and white clothes It seems that she was just as important to the office as Aino and has taken on the artistic responsibility of the studio for the past 10 years of Aalto’s life

Towards the end, he became increasingly introverted, bitter about what, despite his international fame, he viewed as a lack of appreciation at home. As commissions dried up, he turned more and more to alcohol and retreated into the cocoon of his office drafted a grand plan for central Helsinki, but only part of it, Finlandia Hall, was ever built and completed in 1971, five years before his death.For younger generations, the experimental, radical Aalto of the 1930s had turned into the late Transformed into a conservative dinosaur in the 1960s, an overwhelming presence to rebel against. For left-wing critics, he was the capitalist designer of banks, factories, and corporate offices

“If you are a shark in a goldfish bowl,” says one narrator, “you will evoke reactions. The name of his own boat aptly reflected how Aalto felt:” Nemo Propheta in Patria “- no one is a prophet in his homeland Given the years of attention paid to his work since then, his sense of rejection is hard to imagine.After decades of Aalto worship and the proliferation of Aalto-inspired chairs, vases, and tea towels, this film throws useful light on both men and women the organic curves • Aalto is featured in Architecture on Film, a program curated by the Architecture Foundation in collaboration with the Barbican

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Alvar Aalto, aino aalto

World news – FI – ‘I picked people up on the street’: the secret life of the architect Alvar Aalto

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2021/mar/21/secret-life-architect-alvar-aalto