Friday, June 11, 2010

Day 11 - Aalto, Aalto and, oh more Aalto

So much Aalto today! Today we only saw Aalto buildings. We saw Aalto's main house, his studio, and the Pensions Institute.

First we rode a cable car/train thing out to the house/studio area. Aalto's house has since been made into a museum and is very fiercely protected. We had to remove our shoes in the secretary's room. I didn't mind this at all, because I could feel the textures of the floors and it felt like I was walking around my own home. It was a more authentic experience.

The rooms in the house are fairly petite, but this is not because of any available funds but a combination of the time period, Finnish culture and architectural trend. The most interesting part of the room arrangement was their vertical relationships. Some rooms were reachable by a half-flight of stairs or sunken slightly below. Few rooms (on the first floor at least) were the same floor height as their adjacent rooms.

As you can see in the section above, there are at least four different levels of floor in the house. If the lowest part of the section is the dining room and den, then the next highest floor is the small studio (originally Aalto worked from his home before his office expanded). The door on the left side is up a few more stairs and leads to Aalto's private study. From there a stair leads to the second floor, where the rooms are all of a uniform height (with one or two exceptions of a step or two).

Here is an image of the small studio room taken from the door to the study:

The following image is of Aalto's own desk below a corner window looking out over a little tree. I could draft for hours at a desk like this.

It wouldn't be an Aalto building if there weren't some light fixtures. This one really had me perplexed, and I'm not sure exactly what the form is supposed to be doing.

Obviously it's focusing the light, but why the M-shaped form? What's the focusing the light towards? (It wasn't evident in the room). I welcome suggestions if you have them.

This lamp was made by a special friend of Aalto's. He had some influence on Aalto's future light designs, and Aalto's preference for his work helped the artist gain notoriety.

Also note the table cloth, which is another signature Aalto design and comes in other colors. We found the fabric for sale at the Aalto Museum... for 20 Euro a meter!!

A short walk down the road took us to Aalto's studio. Today it houses the Alvar Aalto Foundation which preserves and promotes Aalto's work. Although the studio was one connected building, two spaces stood out as definitive. First, the drafting room itself, a fairly well-lit, open-spanning space.

Second, Aalto's personal office and meeting room and the grandest space in the building:

That rug in the middle of the floor was irresistibly comfortable and I wanted badly to lie down and fall asleep on it.

I worked out the space in axon to better understand the relationship of the curving wall to the sloping ceiling.

The slope is so gentle, over such a distance that it's hard to tell in the drawing that there is even any sort of angle. This is the first axon I've done so far where I was satisfied with the angle I chose, especially for the way I was able to show the landing in the left corner and the little balcony on the upper floor.

Once we finished absorbing the studio, we hopped the train again to Helsinki and the Pensions Institute, also by Aalto. Here, Aalto's affinity for the semi-cylindrical tile I mentioned before comes out in full force. We barely stepped in the door before we were flooded in a sea of blue and white tile.

Just around the corner, though, I saw something I've never seen before, but everyone should: a paternoster! A paternoster is an open-lift elevator that is constantly moving so that one side is always traveling up and one side is always traveling down. A passenger just steps into the box and rides as far as their destination and steps out again. Here's the paternoster mid-level (I never saw it stopped, but, it's a photograph you know)

The Pensions Institute is a large building where something like 600 Finns work. For that reason, and it being a government building, we had a guide to navigate us, whose name was Petra. She was hands-down the best guide we've had so far, with a sense of humor and very easy-going. Certain areas and things were absolutely off-limits, but she did let one person (Dan) ride the Paternoster.

We visited the library on the tour, a curious area divided into two spaces: a lounge and the greater library itself, connected series of stairs and steps. I quickly sketched a section of how I perceived the different levels to relate to one another.

Note to Self: redraw this section!  What you can tell is that there are clearly two rooms, each with two levels. In the room on the right, the levels are full room height, whereas on the left, a few steps lead down to one level that (you can't tell exactly) circles an even lower area, reached by the second, and larger stair. If you remember the Nordic House library, something similar to the Pension library's left room happens. A lower set of stacks sits below and is ringed by a path and more stacks. The lower set is open to the upper so someone can look over the railing at the books and people below.

The light coming from the ceiling is daylight streaming in through light wells. The blue light is due to shadow from overhanging trees.

I was surprised by the playfulness in the cafeteria. There was the clay tile, of course, but the ceiling module, an upside-down square dish, made for an interesting surface that appeared to ripple and move (although of course it was fixed). The light fixtures are a simplified version of Aalto's patented "beehive" lamp.

That's Petra, our tour guide, on the right. The wall to the left, just out of the frame, is almost entirely glass and looks out on a grass courtyard.

I found this water dispenser particularly beautiful, if only for the blue translucent lever.  Looking at the photo now, I'm not sure what made me so interested in it, but I remember being drawn to its form and the blue lever.

 You thought I would forget about lighting? Heck no!  Howsabout this nifty lamp?

Or this three-lamp fixture?

So many lights, so little time.

We concluded the tour in the main hall, which is daylit from above with giant triangular skylights.

Why can't we do this more in America?  Why is it so hard to design for daylight? Aalto designed loads of great electric lamps, but he didn't ignore the need for daylight. Instead, he celebrated natural light as an integral part of the building's performance. When possible, I believe buildings should be naturally lit. Electric lighting has its place, of course, and should be treated with care and consideration. Each has its place and balance is key. We've come too rely too heavily electric lighting as the quick fix or the equalizer, but enough studies show that humans, biologically, need to be aware of the sun's position in the sky for their bodies to function. Fundamentally it's a chemical process, but the physical effects are equally significant. Aalto worked in a unique time when electricity was newly and cheaply accessible to all and postwar production was at an all-time high, allowing him to design mass-producible light fixtures. At the same time, thousands of years of daylight sensibility had not yet faded and so Aalto's buildings have a great balance of electric and day light.

That wraps things up for today. I'm slowly closing the gap between the actual day it is for me and the day talked about in the post. I've still got a lot of catching up to do.  I'll leave you with a shot of me in one of the smaller chamber rooms.


  1. Great phot0s... The light... I agree w/ you that we do not use anough natural light in our buildings! It goes back to the saying from the movie..the lake house! it's the light!!