Scandinavian Study Tour

Aaron & Christina recently travelled to Europe for a holiday – and some research…

Villa Mairea, Noormarkku

Published in Cross Section, Dec 2006.

In August this year my partner and I travelled to Finland to attend the 10th International Alvar Aalto Symposium, a triennial conference that takes place in Jyväskylä, the small town where Aalto located his practice for many years before moving to Helsinki. Although it takes his name, the three-day conference does not focus specifically on Aalto’s work. Instead invited speakers discuss their own work relative to a conference theme, which this year was “Less and More – Extending the Rational in Architecture”. Alvar Aalto saw that the only future for rational architecture was to extend the concept of rational, and speakers were chosen who could demonstrate how, in spite of, or even as a result of their rational approach, poetry prevails and beauty is strongly present in their works.

Speakers included Brigitte Shim of Shim-Sutcliffe Architects, Dorte Mandrup-Poulsen from Denmark and Fuensanta Nieto/Enrique Sobejano of Spain. Gavin Byers a composer of music from the UK also gave a fascinating talk on his work and its connection to architectural spaces.

Despite Aalto not being addressed specifically in the formal sessions his influence on the event was enormous. Proceedings took place in the main auditorium of the Jyväskylä University (1954-55), events were held at the Aalto museum (1971-73) and the Jyväskylä City Theatre foyer (1964-66, 1982), and there was a field trip taking in the Workers’ Club (1924-25), Säynätsalo Town Hall (1949-52) and the Muuratsalo Experimental House (1952-54).

While the event was excellent, the highlight for us was a post-conference tour, where 30 architects, architecture students and other interested types (and some long-suffering partners) from a variety of nations spent three days travelling around Aalto’s work in southern Finland. The good company, great architect-guides and plenty of time to discuss the work over a few drinks in the evenings made this an extremely enjoyable few days. If you are craving that sense of heightened awareness that comes with travel or if you have been lacking a bit of poetry in your work lately, a good dose of Aalto is highly recommended. Sweden and Norway are also worth a visit, but that is another story…

Aaron Sills

Pension Building, Helsinki

Villa Mairea, Noormarkku

Church, Seinäjoki