Designer focus: Alvar Aalto

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Designer focus: Alvar Aalto


Alvar Aalto (1898-1976) enjoyed an exceptionally rich and varied career as an architect and designer, both at home in Finland and abroad.

In his early architectural work of the 1920s and 1930s, he explored themes of Nordic Classicism before venturing into the more popular Modernism trend. Aalto had adopted the principals of user-friendly, functional design in his architecture. From the late 1930s onwards, the architectural expression of Aalto’s buildings became enriched by the use of organic forms, natural materials and increasing freedom in the handling of space. It was characteristic of Aalto to treat each building as a complete work of art – right down to the furniture and light fittings.

Success in this led Alvar to set up his own company Artek. Adopting the same principles as in his architecture, Aalto focused on growing his range of furniture. The idea was to encourage more beautiful everyday life in the home. He was soon driven by an interest in glass since it provided an opportunity to handle the material in a new kind of way using free forms.

In 1936, Alvar Aalto’s series of glass vases won first prize in the 1936 Karhula-Iittala Glass Design Competition. Compared to the decorative objects of the time, the simple yet organic shape of this vase was a revolutionary statement. Inspired by waves (“aalto” in Finnish) in the water, the vase is a symbol of Finnish design and one of the most famous glass objects in the world.

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