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Alvar Aalto

The Finnish architect and designer Alvar Aalto (1898 – 1976) was one of the most influential and famous creators of his time. His work ranged in function, place and purpose; from town halls and churches to an extensive furniture range. As an architect, he often worked on every part of the creation of the house, hotel or building – right down to the door handles and light fixtures. His furniture career was solidified in the company he started with his wife and two other associates, Artek, which is still functioning today. His design speaks of the natural and organic, adopting the Humanist approach to Modernism that was popular in Finland in the 1930s and 1940s. Most of his buildings can be located across Finland, with some also in Sweden, the USA and Germany. 

Alvar Aalto was chosen as a protégé of Armas Lindgren, who worked closely with Eero Saarinen. While he was finishing his studies at the Polytechnic, Aalto worked for Carolus Lindberg where he helped with the Tivoli area at the 1920 Finnish National Fair. Although his architecture is among the landmarks of Finnish design history, it was Aalto’s furniture that made him so influential. Setting up his Artek company in 1935, they housed furniture and textiles. His first major commission was to create chairs for the Tuberculosis Sanatorium in Paimio and was a huge success because of its innovative design. Although he was mostly known across Europe, his work appealed to many people, worldwide. Aalto’s furniture designs for Artek were inventive and different; particularly the design of chair legs, making each piece produced a recognizable work by Aalto.

Alvar Aalto, Artek Chair (circa 1940) H:74cm W:54cm D:62cm, birch wood and enamel, Artek Finland

The Artek Chair is dated around 1940 but with its early designs traced to around 1932. The design is innovative by the shape of the ‘L-leg’ system, where the wood is bent and laminated to an almost 90 degree angle, forming one part arm rest and chair leg. The use of birch wood contrasts the enamel of the chair’s seat, which speaks to Alvar Aalto’s appreciation of natural materials working with products that are effective and practical for everyday use.