Reshaping the Surroundings

Alvar Aalto’s Cultivated Landscapes is an exhibition co-produced by the Museum of Finnish Architecture and the Alvar Aalto Foundation looking at previously unexplored aspects of the famous architect’s work. The exhibition, which runs from 25 September 2019 to 12 April 2020, is highlighting how Alvar Aalto’s architecture connects with landscape.

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Alvar Aalto: Muuratsalon koetalo / Alvar Aalto-säätiö Muuratsalo Experimental House / Alvar Aalto Foundation Heikki Havas, (kuvausaika ei tiedossa)

As for the Finnish landscape, I have always been immersed in it. When I began to appreciate the balance and harmony it exudes, I also began to understand how we humans should treat out natural surroundings. – Alvar Aalto, 1972 –

Landscapes form an inseparable part of Alvar Aalto’s (1898–1976) architecture. He viewed them through the lens of an architect, in terms of how they could be reshaped and refined. He began his design process by considering the spirit of the place, both as a physical location and as a site of social interaction. Aalto treated the building’s surroundings as an extension of the interior, just as he viewed the site itself from a broader, landscape-focused perspective. Here he possessed deep insight, masterfully designing everything from small-scale gardens to large-scale landscaping projects.

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Alvar Aalto: Muuratsalon koetalo / Alvar Aalto-säätiö Muuratsalo Experimental House / Alvar Aalto Foundation Maija Holma,1995

The new exhibition opening at the Museum of Finnish Architecture looks at Aalto’s relationship with the landscape – how he experienced it, and how he sought to integrate his architecture with the character of the terrain and vegetation of each site. Various factors influenced the outcome. The university campuses of Otaniemi and Jyväskylä offer a sample of how Aalto expertly wove together older architecture heritage to create something wholly new.

The exhibition takes a comprehensive look at how various features of the landscape influenced Aalto’s design process and his unique way of interpreting and reshaping the surroundings in dialogue with his architecture. With the town centre of Seinäjoki, for instance, he completely transformed the site with bold earthworks and by varying the height of the buildings.

Amid a growing body of evidence pointing to the important role that nature plays in maintaining health and wellbeing, the presence of nature in urban environments is a highly topical theme of discourse at the moment. Finland’s most famous architect was ahead of his time in advocating green corridors and biophilic design, of which his architecture offers a fine sample.