Thursday, July 12, 2018

Aalto and Tammisaari

Hi there,
Departing Jyväskylä

just a few days ago I did a nice day trip to the city of Tammisaari which is located at the south-west coast of Finland. What is special about this small 15,000 people town is the fact that it is home to two Aalto buildings, a private home and a commercial building. While the commercial building is quite well know the private home has more been of a hidden spot. This was also due to the fact that the original owner, for whom Aalto had designed the house, had been living in the building until the beginning of this year. Because coming of age the owner moved at the beginning of 2018 to a flat and the house was finally opened to the public. Now the Christine and Göran Schildt foundation is taking care of the house and offers a limited amount of guided tours during this summer. Thanks to a work colleague who has read about those guided tours in the newspaper and alerted me I was able to attend one of those few and rare tours. Although the tours are still running until July 19th, they are all sold out by now. I was lucky enough to still get a spot in one of the tours.

However, coming the long way from Jyväskylä, I almost missed the rare chance to attend the booked tour because of a train delay due to a technical fault. Luckily I had booked tickets for the first train from Jyväskylä to Tammisaari departing at 5.28 am in order to be on time for the booked tour at noon. While I supposed to arrive in Tammisaari at 10.02 am, I just arrive on the spot a few minutes before the tour started at 12. Luckily the train company paid for a taxi that drove right to house.

Nevertheless, I still recommend to use the train in order to reach Tammisaari. About 100 kilometers from Helsinki to the west Tammisaari is a comfortable day trip destination and this lovely coastal town has certainly more to offer and to do besides visiting Aalto's great works. It takes about 1.5 hours from Helsinki to Tammisaari by train including one quick change in Karjaa. From the station all sighs are within walking distance.

Site No. 75 Villa Schildt in Tammisaari (1969)

Villa Schildt, as named after the owner and close friend of Alvar Aalto, was one of Aalto's last works. Villa Schildt is in fact the last and the smallest private house Aalto ever designed. The building is also known under the name Villa Skeppet ('ship' in Swedish) which was formed by the local Swedisch speaking residents and also used by the owners although the official name of the building remains Villa Schildt. The name most likely came from the fact that the house had a bit the shape of a ship.

The house is located on Östra Strandgatan 6 in a quiet residential area close to the coast and only a couple of hundred meters away from the actual center and old town of Tammisaari.

As already mentioned Alvar Aalto and the owner of the house Göran Schildt were close friends. In fact Schildt, an art historian and writer, published in 1970 a biography about Alvar Aalto's work and life in four volumes which is probably until today among the greatest works that has been published on Alvar Aalto. Due to the age difference of 20 years but also due to the lack of a father figure, Aalto was like a father to Göran Schildt. What linked them both was their love for the Mediterranean.

While Aalto was designing the commercial building in Tammisaari he discovered the perfect building ground for the house. Aalto wanted to built a house for Schildt in order to bring him back to Finland. Schildt had lost his parental home just a few years earlier and spend most of his time abroad.

For the exterior Aalto used some ideas he had for an art museum in the Middle-East that unfortunately was never realized. Although the tour focused mainly on the interior it was not allowed to take any photographs during the tour. Entering the building through the main door one reaches the lobby that connects all rooms of the house.

The kitchen to the right features also the dinning room which is unusual for Aalto's private houses but is probably due to the small size of the house. The kitchen is kept open which is due to the fact that the lady of the house liked cooking and wanted to have some company while preparing food, providing enough room for people to accompany her. Behind the kitchen is the bedroom which, however, could not be seen during the tour. Opposite to the the front door is the study which functioned as Schildt's work room and is the only room in the house that can be locked. To the left stairs a leading up to the living room which is by far the largest room of the house.

Elevating the living room and putting it on top of the garage was due to the fact that Aalto wanted to use large windows letting in a lot of natural light but at the same time protect occupants to be seen by people passing by the house at the close by road. The living room features besides Artek furniture a lot of art works, such as the largest collection of paintings of the Italian artist Roberto Sambonet in Finland. Sambonet was a good friend of the house and also of Alvar Aalto. In addition there is also a painting of Alvar Aalto on display. Besides that, the chimney is hand sculptured by Alvar Aalto himself.

The backyard of the house features the separate sauna building and a pond that has the same shape as Aalto's famous Savoy vase. 

The sauna is kept separate from the house and in black while the rest of the house is kept in white color.

The backyard is a quiet oasis protected from the street by the house itself.

The guided tour starts in the yellow wooden building next doors that houses also a changing exhibition about Göran Schildt and Alvar Aalto's architecture. Even if you cannot currently participate in one of the guided tours you should definitely visit the exhibition and tour the villa from the outside.

Site No. 76 Tammisaari Savings Bank (1964-70)

The second Aalto site in Tammisaari is located right in the center of the town and you cannot miss it on your way from the railway station. Located at Stationsvägen 6 is the Tammisaari Savings Bank. What makes this building stand out is not only its white color but the fact that it features several elements of the Finlandia Hall, Aalto's landmark work in Helsinki.

The white marble and the large windows as well as the porch speak a clear language and remind anyone familiar with the Finlandia Hall immediately of this very well known building. 

In addition to the bank the building features on its side wing an amount of commercial spaces for shops.

Although less spectacular than the bank section the commercial section clearly features Aalto's hand writing. While the inner yard of the building features some space for pedestrians and benches for rest, the less spectacular back side of the building provides parking space for customers of the bank and commercial spaces.

After participating in the guided tour and admiring Aalto's great works that Tammisaari has to offer I spend the remaining day wondering through the beautiful and well preserved old town. After a visit to the local natural history museum and a short dip in the baltic sea it was time to start my long return trip to Jyväskylä. Without any significant delay I reached back home on the last train of the day. This was certainly a beautiful summer day well spent. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Aalto's first works in Jyväskylä

Hi there,

Last autumn I attended an interesting exhibition at the Alvar Aalto Museum on Aalto's works in Jyväskylä and learned hereby about a few less known Alvar Aalto buildings which I would like to present today. Among those are some of Aalto's first works here in Jyväskylä. These are mainly private houses. As soon as the snow had melted away I took the time to visit those sites.

Site No. 72: Karpio House in Jyväskylä (1923)

Only about one hundred meters away from the Alvar Aalto Museum one finds Aalto's first realized work in Jyväskylä the Karpio House. The building is located in Lehtisenkuja 1. It is located in an park like area that features many old beautiful wooden houses.

This work was actually only an upgrade to an existing building, Aalto was commissioned to make some changes to this simple wooden building. Although, Aalto didn't design the entire building he certainly left some unique features to the building that almost a hundred years ago were probably striking.

Site No. 73: Nuora House in Jyväskylä (1923)

In the same year Aalto was also commissioned to do alternations to another existing house in Jyväskylä, the Nuora House located in Taulumäentie 1. The house in close proximity to the Taulumäki Church that dominates the neighborhood. The church was erected a few years after Aalto had done the alternations to the Nuora House.

Site No. 74: Casa Lauren in Jyväskylä (1925-28)

In contrast to the two above presented houses received Aalto in the mid-1920s the commission to build a new house for the Lauren family. This house was designed for the individual needs of the Lauren family and contained in its original design four apartments. Since then the purpose of the house has, however, changed and currently the house stands empty. Nevertheless, there are some plans under way to renovate the house and to bring some new live into it. The house is located in Vapaudenkatu 12.

An interesting detail about this house is its name which clearly shows the Italian influences of Aalto's earlier works. As Aalto created a new home for the Lauren family he called the house Casa Lauren which translates from the Italian into Lauren's home. Also the design of the house shows some interesting elements for which Aalto certainly found his inspiration in Italy.

It is certainly going to be interesting to see how this building is going to develop in the future and I will provide updates on this blog as soon as the work gets under way!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Aalto in Jyväskylä - Update 3

The Main Building of the University of Jyväskylä (1954-56)

After touring Europe for so many Aalto sites last summer it is once again time to provide some updates on some of the buildings here in Jyväskylä. Today, I would like to write about a very special Aalto building here in Jyväskylä that has undergone an extensive renovation and is now shining again in its original state. The building in question is the Main Building of the University of Jyväskylä, often refereed to C-building. Just recently I learned the meaning behind the C and was surprised that C stands for Capitolium. Using this building for so many years during my studies here at the University of Jyväskylä and now after years of renovation for festivities that are held at the university, I never spend time on thinking about why this building is simply called C. Anyhow the name makes sense as the building is the administrative heart of the University of Jyväskylä as the rector's office is located here. Another good reason for the name is the large auditorium that seats over 700 people.

This building was erected in the mid-late 1950s as part of the master plan of the new university main campus that was designed by Alvar Aalto. After many years of use the building went under renovation in 2013. This was necessary to solve indoor air problems and to create new learning environments that serve better today's needs. Because the building is in the highest possible protection class the original structures, surfaces and furnishing were preserved carefully during the entire renovation. This is why it is not surprising that the renovation of the 9100 square meter building took more than 4 years and ended just in summer 2017.

Finally in September 2017 the building was again put back in use, however, not without celebrating the return of our university's most important building. Being a staff member of the University of Jyväskylä, I had the privilege to take a look behind the scenes at the day of the re-opening. Before having a closer look at the interior I would like to start with some impression of the exterior.

When passing through the main doors, that are facing towards the city centre of Jyväskylä, one enters first a large lobby that is mainly kept in white marble imported from Yugoslavia. The marble floor was entirely renewed during the renovation using now marble from Portugal. 

Another interesting feature of the great lobby are the large window fronts that provided a beautiful view towards the pine forest that is located next to the building. Also part of the lobby is a small cafeteria called Cafe Belvedere that serves student lunches and coffee in the afternoon.

Also in the lobby one can find a coat room which features the beautiful dark blue color and provides a charm of the 1950s. This color made it by the way also into the new branding of the University of Jyväskylä. In my opinion a timeless and elegant choice that Aalto made here.

Above the lobby is the large auditorium which I mentioned already earlier. Through three different staircases visitors can enter the auditorium in a very efficient way. 

The large auditorium is window-less, apart from the roof windows which are usually covered. It is kept in red brick with wooden floors and seats kept in the same blue that we saw already in the coat room. The seats in the upper section, however, feature black leather. Interesting to point out is also the lighting system. Finally, I also have to mention the great acoustics. On the night of the re-opening the university organized the opening celebrations of the academic year in this building to which all university staff members were invited. There was first a musical performance in the large auditorium and what amazed me about this was that the musicians did not had to use any microphones due to the outstanding acoustics reaching also the audience seated at the very end of the hall.

Returning to the grand lobby and passing the coat room one enters the section of the building that contains the administrative section of the building and the smaller lecture halls as well as through a long corridor the library. A staircase leads to the different rooms and the lobby is illuminated through roof top windows. Marble stairs lead the way to the upper floors.

On the second floor is the rector's office that could also be visited by university staff members during the re-opening day. 

The third floor features another large lecture hall that was designed by Aalto in a U shape with terraced rows of seats, inspired by the classical Greece. Typical of Aalto, the fittings and wooden details are all carefully planned.

Then, on the fourth floor different smaller lecture halls can be found that have originally been designed for clay and gypsum work as part of the teacher's education for which the building was originally designed for.

Also on the fourth floor is another lecture hall that is almost a bit hidden. I recall in 2011 when I was taking an Italian class having really a hard time to find this hall. I remember that it was in 2011 because it was a unique date when this class took place, as it was the 11.11.11 and I was just looking at my clock soon before the lecture was going to end and it was exactly 11:11:11 at that moment. 

Finally, I would like to turn the attention to the earlier mentioned library that is also part of the building. Through a narrow corridor system, that also connects the C with the X-Building that I have already presented in this blog earlier, the library can be reached. Before the new main library of the University of Jyväskylä was built in the mid-1970s by Arto Sipinen this library functioned as the main library of the university.

Today, the library has lost its function and has been turned into a computer lab for students. I have spent some significant in this hall when I started working on my Master's Thesis in 2011.

During the renovations some of the walls that separated the library from the upper floor have been removed in order to bring the building back into its original state. Now one can look down into the library from the upper floor and there is now more natural light passing into the library.

It was really nice to re-visit the main building of the university after such a long period of renovation and see how everything has been returned into its original state. Among all the Aalto buildings that can be found in Jyväskylä, the Capitolium certainly stands out as a great example of modern architecture and can be regarded as a one of the most significant works of Aalto's red brick phase.