Aalto´s Nature / Aaltova příroda

Aalto´s Nature / Aaltova příroda
ISBN: 978-80-907419-0-4
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Aalto's Nature / Aaltova příroda

The role of vernacular building tradition of Japan and Finland in the work of Alvar Aalto in the 1930s

In our own era, when standardization is the principle of production, we must recognize that formalism is inhuman to the highest degree. The standard object should not be a final project; on the contrary, it should be manufactured in such a way that its form is perfected by human beings, with all the individual laws that govern them […]. There is one civilization that has previously, also at the handicraft stage, shown great delicacy and understanding of the individual in this respect. I am thinking of certain aspects of Japanese culture, which with its limited raw materials and forms has implanted in the people a virtuosity in producing variety and, almost daily, new combinations.
The ideas and ideals received from traditional Japanese architecture and Finnish vernacular buildings played an important role in the early career of Finnish master architect Alvar Aalto (1898-1976). This made Aalto rejecting the historicist and functionalist approaches to design for pursuing a more humane architectural synthesis responding to both physical and psychological needs of human beings in the 1930s. These synthetic and mature works of Aalto clearly present how he expressed the metaphorical Nature and took care of the human senses by interpreting the refined aestheticism of Japanese architecture and Finnish vernacular built forms. This exhibition, as the first of this kind, closely explores the role of vernacular building tradition of Japan and Finland in the maturity of Alvar Aalto’s architectural creation. This closely reveals why Aalto could become Aalto – a great master architect humanizing modern architecture with received aesthetic inspiration and confirmation from both exotic and native tradition.
In the 1930s, Aalto revealed his strong interest in traditional Japanese architecture. There were two key reasons behind this: one was the worldwide disseminations of Japanese culture after the First World War; and the other was the friendship of the first ambassador of Japan Hakotaro Ichikawa and his wife Kayoko Ichikawa with the Aalto family. Although Aalto never visited Japan, today, his book collection of Japanese art and architecture are surviving at Alvar Aalto Foundation, and these books closely revealed Aalto’s perception of Japan. Among them, the 1934 華道三十六家選 [Thirty-six works of Japanese flower arrangements] was directly given by Ichikawa couple, and Tetsuro Yoshida’s 1935 Das Japanische Wohnhaus (The Japanese House) seemed to provide Aalto the most sophisticated introduction of Japanese houses and gardens.
Possibly, inspired by modern interpretations and promotions of building tradition of Japan, Aalto was obsessed by Finnish vernacular buildings in the late 1930s. Although it was difficult to clearly clarify the scope of Aalto’s perception of vernacular building tradition of Finland, the previous scholarship argued that the built forms and spaces of the Karelian villages and Seurasaari Open-Air Museum could provide a fertile ground for enriching Aalto’s understanding of his own tradition. Meanwhile, based on some similarities found in the vernacular building tradition of Japan and Finland, the perceived aestheticism and ideologies of Japan seemed to influence Aalto’s way of interpreting his own native building culture. This made Aalto’s mature work in the 1930s presenting a fusion between interpreted Japanese and Finnish building culture.
This exhibition not only presents Aalto’s key projects in the 1930s but also includes his important works realized in the 1920s for emphasizing the growth and changes of his architectural philosophy and design approach. This exhibition also selects images from Aalto’s study on Japanese architecture and key documents presenting his perception of Finnish vernacular architecture for indicating the analogies between Aalto’s perception and representation of vernacular building tradition both of Japan and Finland. The design for his own house and studio at Munkkiniemi (1936) and Villa Mairea (1939) could be the two most significant syntheses presenting his learned ideas and ideals.
The significant differences between Aalto’s work in the 1920s and 1930s could re-confirm his learning from building tradition both from Japan and Finland. This further emphasizes the changes of Aalto’s design approach and represents the growth of Aalto’s architectural philosophy: revising the modern architecture design by adopting and submitting to tradition and natural environments. The tradition and metaphorical Nature Aalto found in Japanese architecture and Finnish vernacular buildings could be the inspiration and confirmation for his extended concepts of rationalism and functionalism: humanizing the modern architecture with both the physical and psychological needs of human beings. Indeed, with the received aestheticism from Japan and attachment of his native primitive culture, Aalto did not simply imitate the perceived built-forms, and he aimed to create his own tradition with Nature in Finland.

Kabinet architektury, Ostrava 2018, 155 pages, bilingual - Czech and English, ISBN 978-80-907419-0-4