Alvar Aalto: the material and immaterial

Art, Special

The finnish architect Alvar Aalto (03/02/1898- 11/05/1976) has left his mark on the XX century architecture, influencing important contemporary architects and his work continues to teach the importance of searching for simplicity and minuteness. His work was conceived through a visual exploration translated to his drawings. The furniture design, the details and the building are more than just mere industrial productions of the time.

I first had contact with his projects when I was accepted at the architecture university. Back then people were discussing about the definition of “modern” and its limitations in contemporaneity. But nobody came to a conclusion. Years later, when I was studying in Porto, Portugal, I felt in love with Álvaro Siza’s work, a representative modern portuguese architect, who has openly declared to have been influenced by Aaalto’s work. I have started to understand how ideas build up a city.


The forms, the urban sights,the surrounding and our way of occupying the space, all of which are generated by material and immaterial inheritances. I have understood after going through the streets of Lisbon, the dense spirit of Rio de Janeiro’s downtown streets, for example. And I have learnt that the light’s magnetism in Siza’s works, with its zenithal openings illuminating walls and transforming them into monuments, has come from his historical background. The themes previously explored by Aalto were all there. His legacy is not only about having objects spreaded around the world, but rather about understanding and searching for the spirit of architecture. The light shaping itself through the wisely use of an object, through the delicacy of the esthetic conception and the local references.



Alvar Aalto’s work had an impact on Siza as it had on me. And so it goes, the material becoming immaterial. The built space transmits human values, and teaches the body how to relate to the surrounding, the eyes how to perceive the lights shaped by the gaps on the ceiling, walls, angles and cracks. Cubes of brick and stone cut out and spreaded by the power of emotion and spacial wisdom, sheltering homes, libraries and hospitals.

I have realized that I shouldn’t insist on divisions to understand historical movements. The events seemed a continuous thing and the passage of the years way too relative. But, Aalto, just like Siza or Michelangelo will always be modern because they learned how not to be labeled. They took part in the movements of their time, but knowing how to let their marks with a lot f courage, willpower in the most individual, emotional and authentic sense.


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