Fig.3. Room for a lying patient
Based on the notion of humanism, features that are reflecting Aalto’s humanism in these two works can be mainly divided into three aspects: dispersion of space, scale of space and the weakening of political space.
1) Dispersion of Space
Aalto tends to disperse space instead of concentrating space. Usually, for a public building, the more concentrated it is, the more the tension it would impose on the users, which, from the view of humanism,
is unacceptable. In the case of Säynätsalo Town Hall, the solution was simple and clear that he formed a complex with each element being connected altogether by a central courtyard. The site is almost a square, with highest tension in the center. By inserting a courtyard in the center, he skillfully created a balance between solid and void, reducing the tension to a great extend. [Fig.4] The largest compound was subdivided as well. According to certain function of the space, the compound was divided into three main areas which were either separated by walls or linked by small entrances. This manipulation at the same time ensured that users would be movable mostly inside certain functional area without distracted by other unrelated space. (Aalto et al. 1973)
Fig.4. The central courtyard and three main functional areas
While for the Finlandia Hall, since it is more of a monumental architecture, it was unavoidable that the hall was built into one single large building rather than a complex of several smaller buildings. But Aalto tactfully continued the idea of dispersing the space inside the large massing. The boundary of massing defined an edge which can be regarded as a container of interior space. Inside this container Aalto dispersed concert hall, music hall and congress wing into three relatively isolated spaces. [Fig.5] Large public space which functions as traffic space simultaneously were set in between these isolated spaces as connectors. Such kind of public space also merged with the scenery under the help of large picture
windows. It successfully created a transition between the open bay view and extremely enclosed hall space. He also put his self-designed furniture in the transition space, striving to bring a releasing atmosphere into this space. [Fig.6]
Fig.5. Three relatively isolated spaces
Fig.6. Large picture windows
2) Scale of Space
Scale of space profoundly influences how people sense the space’s publicity and seriousness. Therefore Aalto used the scale of space as a tool to define the space’s characteristics. In both of the cases, Aalto gave the largest scale and highest level to the most important space in his view, i.e. the council chamber in Säynätsalo Town Hall and the main concert hall in Finlandia Hall. The massive hall
managed to create a solemn atmosphere. On the contrary, for the spaces that are subordinate or of daily use, he used smaller scale to create a sense of closeness, for example the commercial space in Säynätsalo Town Hall and the sub-divisible restaurant in Finlandia Hall. The contrast between larger scale and smaller scale can be observed from elevations of both of the buildings. [Fig.7.8] A massing of strong and clear geometrical shape rises to the highest point of this building, contrasting to a horizontal massing that is of comparatively low and homogeneous height.
Fig.7. Elevation of Säynätsalo Town Hall
Fig.8. Elevation of Finlandia Hall
The transition between two different scales is noticeable as well. In Town Hall case, the way to council chamber was made into a combination of corridor and staircase. The space was suppressed to an extreme, following by the suddenly enlarged chamber space. Even though, he used narrow clerestory to create soft lighting condition, which to some degree weakened the feeling of tension. While in the Finlandia Hall case, in order to satisfy the requirement of accommodating 1750 people at one time, the transition cannot be designed similar to the town hall one. Differently, the transition was to lowering the ceiling thus creating a terrace on the higher floor. But no matter what the solution is, the basic aim was the same: to produce guidance into a different scale of space, thus make the spatial experience more
complete and smooth.
Fig.9. Entrance to the council chamber
in Säynätsalo Town Hall
Fig.10. Entrance to the main concert hall and the change of
3) Weakening of Political Space
Aalto has always been dreaming of his ideal society, which he strived to express in his works. Influenced by the city-state of ancient Greece and the Italian Renaissance, he wanted to reconstruct democracy and equality in small-scale local government. Citizens shall be the majority of governing while the municipality serves to provide a forum for them. (Schildt and Aalto 1998, 74-78) Based on this ideal, he managed to weaken political spaces in both of the cases. Typically, in Säynätsalo Town Hall, the office for municipality only occupied a corner of the complex. Council chamber which functions as a gathering space for people to discuss city affairs reached the highest point. Other spaces were spared to residential, banks, library and shops, which were all related to each citizen’s daily life. Also, we can find prototype for the central courtyard from the plaza of ancient Greek city-states. Similarly, in
Finlandia Hall, the congress wing was only a small part of the building with the same height as the horizontal massing. Besides, the construction was divided into two periods with the congress wing being built later than the main hall, which also indicated the reduction of political space’s importance.
Fig.11. Three main functional areas in Säynätsalo Town Hall
In conclusion, Aalto has been sticking to the idea of humanism through his career. He managed to penetrate humanist solutions of space despite of different context and various problems to be solved. It was these thoughtful details based on human experience and sensations that made his buildings attractive and immortal. And in my personal view, it was his humanism that made him distinctive from other modern architects. Human-based design shall be continued and advocated today as well since architecture is made by human and in return has the goal to give human a better life.
1. Schildt, Göran, and Alvar Aalto. 1998. Alvar Aalto: master works. New York: Universe Pub.
2. Weston, Richard, and Alvar Aalto. 1995. Places of assembly. In: Alvar Aalto. London: Phaidon Press.
3. Aalto, Alvar, and Göran Schildt. 1998. The humanizing of architecture. In: Alvar Aalto in his own words. New
4. Aalto, Alvar. 1995. Between Humanism and Materialism. In: G. Schildt ed. And S.Wrede tr. 1979. Alvar Aalto, Sketches. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
5. Aalto, Alvar, Yukio Futagawa, and Akira Mutō. 1973. Alvar Aalto: town hall in Säynätsalo, Säynätsalo, Finland,
1950-52. Tokyo: A.D.A. Edita.
6. Weston, Richard. 1993. Town Hall, Säynätsalo: Alvar Aalto. London: Phaidon.
7. Ray, Nicholas. 2005. Alvar Aalto. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Fig.1. Säynätsalo Town Hall. In: Schildt, Göran, and Alvar Aalto. 1998. Alvar Aalto: master works. New York: Universe Pub. 75.
Fig.2. Finlandia Hall. In: Unknown creator. ALVAR AALTO: FINLANDIA HALL. Digital resourse. Avaliable at:
(accessed May 26th, 2013)
Fig.3. Room for horizontal man in the Paimio Sanatorium. In: Aalto, Alvar, and Göran Schildt. Alvar Aalto in his own words. New York: Rizzoli. 106.
Fig.4. 1st floor plan of Säynätsalo Town Hall. In: Weston, Richard. 1993. Town Hall, Säynätsalo: Alvar Aalto.
London: Phaidon. Edited.
Fig.5. 1st floor plan of Finlandia Hall. In: Weston, Richard, and Alvar Aalto. 1995. Places of assembly. In: Alvar
Aalto. London: Phaidon Press. 218.
Fig.6. Finlandia Hall Interior. In: Fen Lan Zheng Hou Qun. Fen Lan Da Sha Finlandia De Chuan Shuo. Digital resource. Avaliable at: (accessed May
Fig.7. Säynätsalo Town Hall. In: Crystalplanet. A Design For Life. Digital resource. Avaliable at:
(accessed May 26th, 2013)
Fig.8. Finlandia Hall. In: Kimmo Kulovesi. Finlandia Hall revisited. Digital resource. Avaliable at:
(accessed May 26th, 2013)
Fig.9. Entrance to the council chamber. In: Weston, Richard. 1993. Town Hall, Säynätsalo: Alvar Aalto. London: Phaidon.
Fig.10. Finlandia Hall interior. In: Weston, Richard, and Alvar Aalto. 1995. Places of assembly. In: Alvar Aalto. London: Phaidon Press.
Fig.11. 1st floor plan of Säynätsalo Town Hall. In: Weston, Richard. 1993. Town Hall, Säynätsalo: Alvar Aalto.