From Syntsalo Town Hall to Finlandia Hall Alvar Aaltos Space of Humanism

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Jonathan Boyle


From Säynätsalo Town Hall to Finlandia Hall: Alvar Aalto’s Space of Humanism

Finnish architect Alvar Aalto was famous for his meticulous manipulation of space concerning human scale and spatial experience, which I would like to call humanism. One typical aspect of his humanism is his regionalism. (Schildt and Aalto 1998, 8-9) Combining modern method of dealing with the space and Finnish local condition and culture, he managed to develop a humanist solution which satisfied local residents both functionally  and spiritually.  Here I would like to take two of his works that were finished in different period of his career and discuss how he blended the idea of humanism into his work and how he developed humanist solution throughout his career. One example is the Town Hall located in Säynätsalo, a small city in central Finland. [Fig.1] This building was designed during a competition in

1949 and completed in 1951. Primarily the building intended to be a municipal office. While Aalto transformed it into a complex which included residential and commercial space apart from municipality. (Schildt and Aalto 1998, 74-81) The other example is the Finlandia Hall built in Helsinki during 1967 to

1971 which was about 20 years later after the completion of Säynätsalo Town Hall. [Fig.2] An extension of congress wing was built soon after the completion of the main hall. (Schildt and Aalto 1998, 204) This period was regarded as the mature period of Aalto’s career in which he proposed a grand plan for

Helsinki with the Finlandia Hall as a component of this grand plan (Weston et al. 1995, 217).

Fig.1. Säynätsalo Town Hall         Fig.2. Finlandia Hall

In order to analyze how Aalto expressed the humanism through the design, firstly we should analyze what  is  humanism  in  Aalto’s  view.  Architecture,  in  Aalto’s  definition,  is  “a  synthetic  phenomenon

covering  practically  all fields of human  activity”.  Its purpose  is “still to bring the material  world into harmony with human life”. (Aalto and Schildt 1998, 102-107) Architecture is a result of human creation and should be used to serve people a better life. The criteria for a good functional architecture should be based on function  from the human point of view. This might sound similar to the functionalism. Actually Aalto’s view is a further development of functionalism. What’s different between functionalism and his humanism  is that instead of letting the function be the most determinative  factor during the design process, Aalto set human as a higher criteria. The purpose of design was no longer limited in terms of how to maximize the function and improve the utilization. He focused more on whether human can enjoy the facility that the function could bring. This difference can be further elaborated through the case of patient room that Aalto often mentioned during public speech. [Fig.3] In terms of function, what a patient room should have basically is no other than some functional furniture, medical care facilities and lighting facilities. However, in order to give patients a more comfortable environment, the designer should also concern about the direction of bed, whether the light would shoot directly into patient’s eyes, whether the patient can enjoy the scenery outside the window when lying on the bed, etc. (Aalto 1995)

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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 ...

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