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Aalto House, 1934-1936

Riihitie 20, Munkkiniemi

Helsinki, Finland

Alvar and Aino Alto

A} aalto with his wife

B} south facade of the house

Google Maps Street View of Riihitie 20.

Basic design ideas underpinning the house

Location of the house in context

Steps leading to Front

Rear entrance

Plan of helsinki house

House and studio for Alvar, Aino and their two children.
The L-shapes create pockets of spaces for roof terraces or gardens that feels welcoming, hence
making the house feel accessible from both the front road and back door, which opens to a
community park. Yet the entrance doors have intimate dimensions that psychologically speaks

Side paths

Minimal Dwelling

Aalto applied the potential of minimal dwelling even in a modest plot of land, in order to achieve
interactive spaces such as these walks to the back terrace via the garden exterior periphery
space of the house.

There are various small staircases that lead to different spaces as Aalto treats the natural
contours of the land delicately.

Relationship of House Design

to Aaltos Design Philosophy

possibility of interaction between

man, his environment
and objects, where the environment
fulfils the psychological need
for constant regeneration
Most intimate surroundings
... created with
... the automatic possibility of
constant change.

Rationalism and Man, (Lecture at Stockholm, 1935)

Aalto kept a simple functionalist colour palette of mainly white and timber for the house facades,
leaving nature to enrich it for a luxurious feel. This also allowed the family to experience the
natural changes of the seasons.

Interaction between Spaces

Living Room

Studio Space

The interaction between work and living spaces is very fluid because of the variable transitional
elements. For example, stairs that lead up to a balcony looking over the studio space also
cleverly allows a high ceiling which encourages a conducive working environment.

The use of balconies to encourage subtle interaction continues externally as well.

In winter, the foliage would clear away to allow more sun and vitality into the
balcony as well as an uplifting outward view of the community park.


Corner studio office

Practical arrangement of windows for natural

light soothes the mind for work and is
enhanced by the corner-windows design and
placing tables directly under windows. The
availability of blinds not only allows privacy,
but for the user to control the atmosphere and
lighting of their space and moment.

The large window also floods light over the

balcony and high ceiling, which psychologically
induces an even airier atmosphere.

Why was the Aalto House significant then?

Stenius Companys Munkkiniemi

district re-planning project

Harry and Maire Gulischen, Artek stools, Villa Mairea

For Aalto, it was significant in terms of being in an exciting time where he could
acquire a plot of land while involved in that area, Munkkiniemis residential
planning project. He also began transitioning into private housing designs, which
he had designed prototypes for winning competitions before.
Being for personal use, he could apply his new principles based on the
Rationalism and Man lecture, hence becoming a kind of testimony to his practice.
We might say that by experimenting and exploring the way of life in this house, it
helped create one of his masterpiece, the Villa Mairea. In this time, he met the
partners of his furniture company, Artek, who are the clients for this project.

Aaltos Exploration of Wood in the house

As the principal material of sensitive

architectural detailing, wood is likely to retain its
position, for synthetic substitutes have failed
to take its place. [It loses] some of the qualities of
wood that are most important in human and
psychological terms.
Wood as a Building Material, (Arkkitehti, No. 6-7, 1956)


Aalto experimented with Early wooden sculpture.

From the wooden sculpture shown here, he
explored the wooden slats, such as innovating the
Exterior cladding.
Based on his text on Wood as a Building
material, ... (change slide)

Aalto demonstrates the humane quality of wood domestically, in

terms of the versatility of wood as part of all kinds of domestic
facilities, such as wooden stairs and curved armrests. As Aalto
designed every detail, Altogether he successfully achieved the
homely environment.

Aalto applied the same philosophy that cares for the

psychological outcome and observation learnt from designing the
Pamio Sanitorium.

Furniture experimentation for Artek, and from past exhibitions

An advantage of having the living spaces beside the studio, was that Aalto could experiment by
exhibiting his furniture designs.

1. Rationalism and Man (1935),

Lecture given at the Swedish Society Industrial Design, Stockholm

Swedish industrial designers - psychological requirements - overcome
Main Arguments
1. Lack of human goals
2. Constant regeneration as a vital requirement for architecture
3. Organically interactive environment
Architectural/ Cultural Context
Swedish functionalism too austere for conservative public - prefer
Nordic Classicism wood
Importance Then and Now
1. Involvement in furniture design
2. Swedish Modern - humanist & natural materials
3. Constant Advancing Technology endangers interaction in architecture

Value to Us as Students
Be rational about psychological effects for our design
Swedish industrial designers - psychological requirements - overcome

Aalto persuades the Swedish industrial designers to consider the psychological requirements in the design processes to overcome the inhumanness of their formalist-functionalism, by using
nature and variability as rationales.
Main Arguments
Formalism is inhumane because its inspirations have barely been human goals. Even a totality without conflict that is achieved by a Rationalist application, could not achieve the invisible,
indescribable human qualities such as cosiness. But by exploring such psychological requirements on top of expanding rationale on more requirements connected to the problem, the potential of
inhuman results are inevitably excluded. Moreover, Aalto observes a human psychological need for constant regeneration as a vital requirement for architecture. Therefore, a form for an
organically interactive environment that Man lives in must also have variability that we can learn from ever-changing nature as a living thing.
Architectural/ Cultural Context
At that time, Europe was settling into their economic recovery, the Modernist fever was catching on and Aalto spoke as a CIAM member, a Functionalist who was in his decisive years
expanding his psychology-based Rationalist beliefs.
He had just exhibited Aino and his furnitures four times in the two years before that, was in the midst of founding his modern design furniture company, Artek.
Moreover, Aalto was addressing a Swedish group of people whove had significant involvement in the functionalist 1930 Stockholm Exhibition which clearly promoted all aspects of the 20th
century modern living. However, their commitment to functionalism was too austere at the time for large sectors of the public who were still quite conservative and preferred Nordic
Classicism with the use of wood. At that time, Finland was also in similar circumstances.
Importance Then and Now
This lecture was important because of several factors:
1. Aalto had begun his involvement in furniture design, thus spoke as an industrial designer as well. And had the opportunity using that momentum to expand his beliefs and criticism of the
present functionalist style to the people who faced the same issues.
2. It coincided or perhaps even influenced his audiences gradual transformation to become Swedish Modern, which was more humanist and embraced natural materials again such as wood.
3. No matter what architectural style we live in, the importance for architecture that interacts with man is increasingly necessary as technology and mechanisation advances.
Value to Us
Be critical and selective of values in the movements. Also of course giving ourselves a social aim as a context by considering the rationales of psychological effect for our concepts and
designs, thus incorporate organic elements and natural lighting.

2. Between Humanism and Materialism (1955)

Lecture given at the Central Union of Architects,Vienna.

In any case, the architect has an obvious task: humanise the characteristics of building materials.
... to restore a correct order of values.
... to make our life patterns more sympathetic.

... [in] the age of machines ...

this should not be done without regard for form ...
We are still left with the old problem of monumentality and form,

Aalto reminds his architect audience as they rebuild their cities and redefine architecture, by elaborating on the architects tasks between
humanism and materialism especially due to the prevalent modern life issue of mechanisation and machines.
Main Arguments
The lectures ultimate argument was that a humane architectural form cannot be achieved instantly using a same standard material unit. It was
manifested in 3 main issues:
1. The wellbeing of users are neglected as building materials are mechanised, hence lacks the human instinct for what is really created and
inevitably destroyed.
2. The conflict of urbanisation that results in the loss of contact with nature, relates back to the architects task of proper organisation even in
relation to the larger context.
3. The architects role as a sympathising medium in order to harmonise the absolute individualism and total collectivism.
Architectural/ Cultural Context

At that time, Europe was undergoing postwar development, hence redefining their architecture. Vienna focused on new forms of
architecture which encouraged diversity and social activity by planning loose complexes with enough space for green recreation areas in
between the buildings. Meanwhile, Aalto was much more well-travelled and have also remarried with a younger architect.
Importance Then and Now
Architecture is ever-changing just as Aalto believes our designed environments should be. Hence, as we architects continually attempt to
redefine the architecture of our urban landscapes, especially with the present globalisation and issue of world population growth, Aaltos emphasis
on these three tasks would be important to maintain a healthy social environment for both individual and wider community.
Value to Us
As students, our design might use psychological rationalism to consider the social and environmental impacts, even in a mechanised world,
in order to achieve a humane architectural experience nonetheless.

Models handcrafted brickwork facade

White painted brickwork external facade

We avoided laser cutting to apply Aaltos philosophy on materialism,

because our handcraft design method expresses the sincerity and
down-to-earthiness of the house.

As wood detailing is an important style of

Aalto, our model managed to capture the same
feel as we practiced meticulous steps in the
model making.

1:50 Ground floor plan

In the modelmaking, we learnt that although

the Aalto house is for both family and work,
Aalto harmonizes the two contrasting concepts
successfully. The simple sliding door that
separates the living room and studio, becomes
a kind of moveable wall allowing Aalto better
control of these two important aspects of his
personal life without an architecture that
bluntly separates them.

1:50 Upper floor plan

Upper floor plan

Moreover, the ground floor is for the socialpluralism aspect of work and a home such as
several long studio tables and the living and
dining room. While the upper floor is for rest
and feels more solitary without totally isolating
it from the vitality below. The humbleproportioned bedrooms and the internal and
external long narrow balconies suggest this.

In conclusion, Aaltos philosophy on a humanist

architecture has been persistent in his design of the
Aalto House.