Alvar Aalto, Villa Mairea, Finland (1941)
The 1930’s saw a number of regional variations on the International Style.
Architects generally viewed their buildings as an expression of a set of
programmatic concerns but they also attempted to link these buildings to their
particular regions. Le Corbusier probably summed it best when he said, “building
in a modern way one has found harmony with the landscape, the climate and
Le Corbusier was very much at the center of this new regionalism. The modern
architects of this era did not want to return to historical eclecticism, but rather find a
new way of translating the International Style into more regional terms. Many found
inspiration in Vers une Architecture, but there were numerous other books which
attempted to place modern architecture in regional setting. Alberto Sartoris
attempted to bridge the gap in both his writings and his architecture by connecting
functional and geometrical disciplines of modernism, and the basic principles of
rural vernacular architecture, Curtis noted.
Some of the best expressions to arise along these lines were those of Alvar Aalto,
who was able to translate modern architectural ideas into a Finnish landscape,
and eventually export these “biomorphic” designs to other countries. But, there
were numerous other examples, particularly in engineering, where Robert Maillart
created marvelously reductive reinforced concrete designs for bridges, such as the
Salginatobel Bridge (1930) in Switzerland.
The key to understanding these diverse regional variations, is the sense of cultural
as well as functional integrity that underlay these designs. Architects wanted bold
modern expressions that were an outgrowth of the classical and regional
influences of their particular part of the world. It was a great period for Modern
Architecture as it spread to Asia and South America, finding roots in such distant
countries as Japan and Brazil.
Still, the prevailing style was classical revivalism, which took on some interesting
regional forms, such as Edwin Lutyens’ Viceroy’s House (1912-31) in New Delhi,
India. But, these forms seemed like updated colonial architecture, with all the
connotations of Imperialism. What the developing countries wanted most was a
modern architecture that was expressive of their independence, which would
mostly come after World War II.
Meanwhile, the iron grip of Hitler and Stalin limited the range of ideas in Germany
and the Soviet Union. Neo-classicism was transformed into a fascist architecture
associated with its dictators. Only in Italy did modern architecture flourish under a
totalitarian state, as Musollini seemed to welcome the bold designs of Guiseppe
Terragni and Gruppo 7, which would have far-reaching consequences.
Woodlawn Crematorium (1940)
Erik Gunnar Asplund had explored various modern interpretations of classical
forms, such as the Stockholm Public Library (1920-8), and had experimented with
the International Style in the Stockholm Exhibit Building (1930). However, it was
by combining the two forms that he would achieve his strongest designs, such as
the Woodlawn Crematorium (1935-40) outside Stockholm.
He worked with Sigurd Lewerentz on the site plan for the Woodlawn cementary,
drawing on aspects of Nordic Romanticism and interpretations of classical forms
set into a wooded landscape. Asplund treated the crematorium as a set of
abstracted classical forms, which idealized the Nordic passage from life to death.
The forms are precise, cast in concrete with cream-colored stone veneer. The
slender piers repeat the rhythms of the trees and the underside of the roof is
ribbed with timber beams. He uses openings in the walls and the roof to frame
images of the forest and the sky, adding to the processional quality of this final
voyage. It is a building steeped in spiritual and metaphorical allusions.
In Denmark, Arne Jacobsen took the concept of the German Siedlung and
adapted it to the climate and topography of the Danish coastline. The forms are
simple and repetitive but by offsetting them and stepping them to the sloping
hillside he takes full advantage of sunlight and views to the sea. It is also creates
a more playful, rhythmic quality to the forms. He combined local craftsmanship
and materials, retaining a modesty of scale typical of the Danish vernacular.
The most well known architect to emerge from Scandinavia was Alvar Aalto. Like
Asplund, he drew inspiration in national myths and local vernacular forms,
transforming these ideas into abstract compositions. His first major work was the
Turun Sanomat Building (1927-9), which was a direct interpretation of Le
Corbusier’s Five Points of a New Architecture. Aalto also sought ways to better
express the acoustical qualities of auditoriums, as seen in the sketches for the
Viipuri Public Library (1927-35), arriving at an undulating ceiling that more evenly
distributed sound throughout the hall.
However, it was his design of the Paimio Sanatorium (1929-33) that cemented his
reputation as the leading architect of the new generation. The building literally
attempted to heal patients by maximizing the amount of sunlight and fresh air into
the rooms, which also provided refreshing views of the forest outside Helsinki. He
broke apart the buildings so as to be better able to conform them to the rolling
landscape. Each function of the complex was expressed in a slightly different way.
The structure of the ‘rest terraces’ was like that of a tree with the floors projected
from a concrete trunk. The angles of the buildings corresponded with the
orientation of patients’ rooms to sunlight in winter and summer.
Aalto drew on a wide variety of modern sources, but had combined them in an
original manner that drew the attention of the leading architects of the day. He was
welcomed as a new member of CIAM in 1933 by Le Corbusier and others aboard
the SS Patris. In turn, Aalto would convince Finnish industrialists and social
institutions of the merits of modern architecture. He was successfully able to
capture the imagination of his clients with his pleasing forms, constructed from
natural materials, which took full advantage of the beloved Finnish landscape.
The Villa Mairea (1938-41) is the most evocative of his designs from this period.
He transformed the idea of a Finnish farm into a ritualistic set of forms and spaces
that combined the local vernacular with modern painterly ideas. He created a
processional quality from the rustic entrance, through a series of formal and
informal spaces, culminating in the sauna. He contrasted white plastic walls to
natural wood elements with primitive connections, creating a marvelous interplay
between abstract and vernacular ideas. Throughout the design there is both a
sense of looseness and control, as if balancing the forces of nature and man in
the ideal villa. The Villa Mairea transcended the idea of functionalism in the same
way as had the Robie House and the Villa Savoye, marking a pivotal stage in the
development of the modern movement, Curtis noted.
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Arne Jacobsen, Housing development
Paimio Sanatorium (1933)
Modern Architecture Expands its Boundaries
The Diversity of a New Tradition