On the Trail of Alvar Aalto : Nature, Snow, Light, Dark Part 2

“Finland, a land rooted in its history and its fairy tales.”

Iittala is a small village in Nuunajärvi where, on the hill, is the oldest glass factory in Finland. The glass has legendary shapes. The Savoy vase created in Iittala, won the competition in 1936. Critics attribute the inspiration of this collection to the Finnish landscape and its lakes.

Here  Alvar Aalto chose not to decide what use to make of the vessels, and left people to use them as they saw fit. Fluid forms, organic, made with three layers of hand-blown glass. Glass is melted snow, running water, thick air, light work, the film transpires. Glass that is Finland, landscape, lake, birch, wood, bark: everything is inside.

I feel that these vessels will melt with the first hint of heat and become wind on the lakes and then freeze again at the end of the short summer. Finland, the people are reserved but know how to welcome.

The journey takes me now in the south-east of the country, near Turku. Here is Paimio sanatorium, designed by Alvar Aalto and his first wife, Aino, in 1926. “The primary purpose of the building is to function as a medical instrument … “. The design of the rooms is defined based on the limited capability of the patient, lying in bed. The colour of the ceiling gives tranquillity, the sources of light are outside the visual field of the patient. He himself had been hospitalized and this served to accentuate the point of view of the patient. Ribbon windows were born here. Almost 90 years ago.

The 41 Paimio Armchair, designed for the sanatorium recalls the famous Wassily by Marcel Breuer. Here the wood replaces the iron pipes. The wood is bent, and this is the greatest quality that Aalto wants to emphasize. Because the curves are, deep down, more “acceptable” than right angles. Rationalism has removed the cushions, there is an anatomic bend that is made of birch plywood, the tree no longer present in the local forests. Folded sheets support the weight with their flexibility and elasticity.

“Chair 46”, created later, with the bold cantilevered structure, manages to lighten the total form. Aalto, with his invention, no longer bending wood with steam that caused great tension in the material. The wood is cut longitudinally along the length of the curvature and perpendicular to its plane, so that the layers are prevented from slipping on each other during the folding before then being fixed with glue.

Finland, a nation that seems to be icy, but instead knows how to love passionately. Chasing the light of the lakes, I arrive at Imatra in the afternoon, with some flashes of the last light. The Church of the Three Crosses is sunk in the snow. Inside, the ceiling and walls are one. Broken walls, the space that evolves through niches, skewed, curved, organic, moulded matter, it seems by his hands, the light that falls on the graceful shapes, clean, where every corner is rounded, where the shadows indicate a change of the surface. And on the ground, wood.

For us in Italy it would be impossible to walk on wood in a church. We often pay little attention to the meaning of things, we do not live with wood in its intensity, in her nature, that is Truth. Aalto here seems to knead the forest with the walls, undulated surfaces that know how to create lightness, on which the light plays, illuminating. Two trapezoidal windows illuminate the celebratory space, another hole in the roof diffuses light in the same space. Light that softens and cleanses the soul.

Following the snow, I reach Järvenpää. We are 70 miles north of Helsinki, obviously in the middle of a forest. The villa is barely seen, as is the integration with the environment. The trees and the garden are disturbed as little as possible. Here, in 1966, Aalto designed and built this home for the most well-known Finnish contemporary musician, Kokkonen.

It is now a museum. Liturgically I take off my shoes and enter, I walk on that part of the floor that is travertine and that leads to the chimney in the living room. Here he lived and worked, the walls are covered in linen and partly with wood panelling. I’m surprised by some small details, such as the profiles that close the wood panelling on the walls, and the frames of doors and windows. Everything seems “normal”, but I feel a pleasant sense of well-being.

For months I kept asking myself the reason for this unusual serenity that then was none other than being part of the creation. I think it was due to his ability to assemble, to combine all the elements, shapes, materials, colours, details, even the simplest as well as the most diverse, in one size which means sharing relationships i.e. harmony.

My journey ends. Finland knows wood, birch trees, lakes, water, darkness and light. And Alvar Aalto, artist of authentic sustainability. That you can not but love.

Minus 35° degrees. How cold it is.

To know more visit: www.signoriniarchitetto.com