Alvar Aalto, the renowned Finnish architect, designer, and town planner, forged a remarkable synthesis of romantic and pragmatic ideas. His work reflects a deep desire to humanize architecture through an unorthodox handling of form and materials that was both rational and intuitive. Influenced by the so-called International Style modernism (or functionalism, as it was called in Finland) and his acquaintance with leading modernists in Europe, including Swedish architect Erik Gunnar Asplund and many of the artists and architects associated with the Bauhaus, Aalto created designs that had a profound impact on the trajectory of modernism before and after World War II. He favored a more heterogeneous architecture, with inspirations ranging from the birch and pine forests of his native country to the classical and Renaissance architecture of the Mediterranean.

In works such as the Paimio Tuberculosis Sanatorium (1929–33) and Viipuri City Library (1927–35) he expanded the notion of a rational architecture, which for him relied too heavily on technical and functional considerations, by giving priority to the psychological and sensual aspects of design through means such as color, the sensitive modulation of light and sound, and materials, especially wood. Aalto designed all of the furnishings for his buildings with the goal of creating flexible standards, a synthesis of practical and aesthetic concerns that harnessed the advantages of machine technology—such as the possibility of low-cost, standardized, replicable products—and the artist’s desire for creative variation. The most famous of these standard designs is his so-called Paimio chair (1931–32), also known as the scroll chair, whose seat is made of a single piece of undulating bent plywood that seems to float in the frame. In the 1930s, Aalto became identified with wood—the essential, profuse, natural material that served as the backbone of the Finnish economy—and known for his explorations of bending and shaping it. His designs for stacking stools, chairs, tables, and other furnishings continue to be manufactured by Artek, a company founded by Aalto, his wife Aino Aalto—herself a gifted architect and designer—their patron Maire Gullichsen, and art historian Nils-Gustav Hahl to distribute the furniture and promote modern art and design through exhibitions.

The extraordinary success of Aalto’s Finnish pavilions for the Paris International Exhibition (1937) and New York World’s Fair (1939), with their notable use of wood elements inspired by the Finnish forests and evoking a pre-industrial spirit and sense of freedom, brought him international recognition. His architecture, bent-wood furniture, and the world premiere of his colorful curvilinear glass vases (produced by Karhula-Iittala) evinced a fresh, organic quality that owed more to nature than to historical precedents or machine industry.

After World War II, Aalto further developed his design vocabulary, his exploration of materials, and an architecture that responds to the landscape in such major works as the Baker House, Senior Dormitory for Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1946–49), marked by an unconventional undulating façade; Säynätsalo Town Hall (1948–52), featuring an enclosed courtyard inspired by Italian Renaissance piazze; and the Church of the Three Crosses in Vuoksenniska, Finland (1948–52), in which he achieved a sensuous, almost mysterious sense of light and brilliantly exploited the plastic, sculptural qualities of concrete.

MoMA has long placed Aalto among the key figures in modern architecture and design. It presented the first museum exhibition and publication devoted to his work in 1938, Alvar Aalto: Architecture and Furniture. In 1984, MoMA presented an exhibition devoted to his furniture and glass, Alvar Aalto: Furniture and Glass, followed in 1998 by the first large-scale retrospective in the US to present original drawings and models of his architecture, Alvar Aalto: Between Humanism and Materialism, which coincided with the centennial of his birth.

Introduction by Peter Reed, Senior Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs, 2016

Wikipedia entry
Hugo Alvar Henrik Aalto (pronounced [ˈhuːɡo ˈɑlʋɑr ˈhenrik ˈɑːlto]; 3 February 1898 – 11 May 1976) was a Finnish architect and designer. His work includes architecture, furniture, textiles and glassware, as well as sculptures and paintings. He never regarded himself as an artist, seeing painting and sculpture as "branches of the tree whose trunk is architecture." Aalto's early career ran in parallel with the rapid economic growth and industrialization of Finland during the first half of the 20th century. Many of his clients were industrialists, among them the Ahlström-Gullichsen family. The span of his career, from the 1920s to the 1970s, is reflected in the styles of his work, ranging from Nordic Classicism of the early work, to a rational International Style Modernism during the 1930s to a more organic modernist style from the 1940s onwards. Typical for his entire career is a concern for design as a Gesamtkunstwerk, a total work of art, in which he – together with his first wife Aino Aalto – would design the building, and give special treatment to the interior surfaces, furniture, lamps and glassware. His furniture designs are considered Scandinavian Modern, in the sense of a concern for materials, especially wood, and simplification but also technical experimentation, which led him to receiving patents for various manufacturing processes, such as bent wood. As a designer he is celebrated as the inventor of bent plywood furniture. The Alvar Aalto Museum, designed by Aalto himself, is located in what is regarded as his home city Jyväskylä.
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Getty record
Aalto, famous for his bent plywood furniture, began designing furniture in the early 1930s. His furniture, like his architecture, reveals his attention to simple practical needs, a proclivity for linear elegance, and an innate understanding of natural forms and textures. His famous library at Viipuri (ca. 1927) is in the International Style. He also designed some significant glass bowls in the 1930s that are among the earliest examples of 'free form' in a utilitarian object.
Finnish, Scandinavian
Artist, Architect, Designer, Furniture Designer, Glass Designer, Decorative Artist
Alvar Aalto, Hugo Alvar Henrik Aalto, Aruvā Āruto
Information from Getty’s Union List of Artist Names ® (ULAN), made available under the ODC Attribution License


39 works online



  • MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art Flexibound, 408 pages
  • MoMA Now: Highlights from The Museum of Modern Art—Ninetieth Anniversary Edition Hardcover, 424 pages
  • Alvar Aalto: Between Humanism and Materialism Exhibition catalogue, Hardcover, 320 pages
  • Alvar Aalto: Between Humanism and Materialism Exhibition catalogue, Paperback, 320 pages
  • Aalto Furniture and Glass Exhibition catalogue, Paperback, pages
  • Alvar Aalto: Architecture and Furniture Clothbound, pages

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