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.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

7 years 10 countries 100 000 visitors

Hi there,

on the October 29, 2010 I visited the Alvar Aalto museum in Jyväskylä for the first time. More than inspired by all the interesting things I saw there I started to create this blog and set a very ambitious goal for myself: to visit all 80 Alvar Aalto sites located in 11 countries around the world. Today, 7 years later I have almost reached this goal. By today I have visited 72 Alvar Aalto sites in 10 different countries! While this ambitious undertaking was first more a project of my own, it gradually received more attention due to the dissemination on this very blog. I am very happy to announce that by now this blog has attracted more than 100 000 readers! The line was just crossed earlier this month. By today this blog attracts more than 100 visitors daily and over 3 000 per month. At this point I would like to thank all my readers for your interest in this blog and for the many friendly comments that you have left on this blog over the years! To celebrate this great achievement I have decided to renew the appearance of the blog and the background picture is now showing the beautiful roof section of the entrance hall of Maison Louis Carre which I visited this summer.

The success of this blog has also encouraged me to get in direct touch with the Aalto Foundation and its chairmen with whom I had a meeting in the spring in Jyväskylä. We discussed different options of collaboration more of which I will probably report later. Anyhow, it was nice to hear of many insider stories and learn more about interesting details on Aalto's work and life.

The past year was filled with site visits around Europe. In fact I visited all remaining Aalto buildings outside Finland with one exception, the Vyborg Library located in Russia. In January I went to Switzerland to see the Schönbühl Apartment House in Lucerne. Then in the summer I visited 10 Aalto sites in four different countries in Sweden, Germany, France and Italy. Among those were the Wolfsburg Cultural Center, the Essen Opera House, Maison Louis Carre and the Church of Riola. But also in Finland some site visits took place which I, however, have not yet found time to report about. Among those were the Housing for the National Pensions Institute in Helsinki and the re-opening of the Capitolium, the University of Jyväskylä's main building, which underwent an extensive renovation that had taken several years. I hope I will find soon time to write about these visits on this very blog.

Also the coming year will see new site visits. Currently I am making concrete plans on visiting the last missing Aalto site outside Finland, the earlier mentioned Vyborg Library. I hope I will also finally succeed in visiting Villa Kokko in Järvenpää and that I can participate in one of the guided tours in the Finlandia Hall. Also have I recently learned about several of Aalto's earlier and less know works which are mainly located in and around Jyväskylä. So also for the future there will be new and interesting site visits of which I will be happy to tell more on this very blog.

Once again thank you for your active readership and please stay tuned!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

European Aalto Summer Tour - Part 3

Hi again,

Train at Paris Gare Montparnasse
after sharing pictures and stories of the first half of my European Aalto Summer Tour where I told in part 1 about site visits in Sweden and in part 2 about Aalto buildings that I visited in Wolfsburg, Bremen and Essen, I will now in part 3 tell about the remaining three Aalto sites that I visited in France and Italy. After I had taken some rest in my home town in the southern part of Germany I continued my InterRail journey taking the train via Strasbourg to Paris where I spend the night at a good friend of mine. The next day I continued from Paris Gare Montparnasse with a local train operated by Transilien line N towards Dreux. After about 40 minutes the train reached the station of Montfort-l'Amaury-Mere. Here is where one of the biggest adventures started that I had ever faced when visiting an Aalto site so far. This railway station was pretty much the closest I could get with public transit in order to reach my next Alvar Aalto site the famous Maison Louis Carre. All I knew was that the house was about 6 kilometers from the station in Montfort away. I had hoped that there would be a taxi that I could hire at the station or at least somebody who could call one for me. This was not the case and as there was no information about busses available. All that I had left was plan B. Plan B meant, I had to walk all the way to the house. Luckily I had brought enough time with me as I still had close to 90 minutes time before the guided tour supposed to start that I had booked already well in advance. With the help of the map on my smartphone I started to undertake the long walk that would take me through the French countryside right through small towns, pass farms and across fields. It was very hot that day and I hadn't much to eat or drink with me. I arrived eventually at the right destination but was certainly exhausted and tired. The tour just started minutes after I had reached the actual house. Nevertheless, Aalto's great work made up for all the struggle and justified the long work in all means.

Site No. 69: Maison Louis Carre in Bazoches-sur-Guyonne / France (1956-63)

Frequently visiting friends in Paris I had planned so many times to do the little ride out of town in order to reach this magnificent piece of Aalto's work in the French countryside. It always felt so close. However, the uncertainty in how to actually reach this masterpiece from the train station in Montfort had always kept me from a visit. Nevertheless, I decided to finally overcome my concerns and do the actual visit. It is needless to say that it was worth all the efforts. While I normally always encourage people to use public transit to reach Aalto sites and try also to describe how to reach each and every site without a car, for this site I, however, recommend to use a private vehicle.

A bit hidden is Maison Louis Carre indeed, however, after ending up in front of this entrance gate featuring one of Aalto's famous creation of lamps, I was sure that I had ended up at the right place. A short description on the right side of the gate confirmed this further. The site can be visited after pre-argreement and with a guide that also explains all the elements of the house. After the tour visitors are allowed to discover the grounds on their own. A visit and tour can be booked by e-mail. Information of how to reserve a tour and when those are taking place can be found on the website of Maison Louis Carre.

The house itself is named after its first owner Louis Carre who was an arts dealer. Carre and Aalto met the first time at the Finnish Pavilion Aalto designed for the 1956 Biennale in Venice, a building I went to see the day after my visit to Maision Louis Carre. After Carre's death his widow lived in the house until the 1990s. After her death the State of Finland purchased the house in order to preserve this great masterpiece of Finland's most important architect, Alvar Aalto, for future generations.

One very interesting aspect of this building is that Aalto designed it in such a manner that it appears like a small house from the outside but a much building from the inside. Part of this idea is also the wave shaped wooden ceiling in the main lobby that give the visitor the impression of a very high room and plenty of space.

One of the speciality of this building are also its lamps. Especially this model seen on the picture above and below Aalto designed for this house exclusively. The idea was to illuminate the art works that Carre exhibited in his house.

This pictures show the large dining room that can be found to the left when entering the house. The dinning table and the chairs are from the Artek catalogue, however, as Louis Carre as well as his wife where rather short in stature Aalto had the feet of the table and chairs shortened before they were installed in the house, fitting to the owner's needs.

The following picture provides an overview of the cross section of the house where the wave shaped ceiling in the lobby becomes clearly visible. The stairs then lead to the living room of the house while the ceiling is kind of pointing the visitor towards this direction.

Overview of the living room that has large windows letting in natural light and open the view towards the garden.

Also the living room features some very unique lamps designed by Alvar Aalto that cannot be found in any other of his buildings.

Next to the living room was Louis Carre's working room and library.

Overview of the master bedroom that features also pictures of Alvar Aalto and his second wife on the walls. Aalto and Carre became really good friends as they shared many common interests.

The master bedroom has also an own bathroom with a small sauna.

Overview of the bedroom that was occupied by the lady of the house. Carre and his wife did not share a bedroom as such.

Also the lady of the house had her own bathroom and a large dressing room. The cloth on display are still the one owned by the lady of the house.

Also the guest room, located right next to the bedroom of the lady of the house, is kept generous.

As Carre used this house also for his arts business the house had been by design separated into two sections, a public and a private. While the public section consisted of the living room, the library as well as the dining room, the lobby was were also the private sections could be accessed. This section was separated from the public section through these wooden panels which functioned also as doors.

Besides the master bedroom, the bedroom of the lady of the house and the guest room the private section also contained a large kitchen as well as living space for servants on the second floor.

A staircase leading to the second floor where the servants had their accommodation. Among those were a cook, a driver and a gardner.

Overview of the servants bedrooms. These rooms can normally not been visited during the guided tour but the guide was so friendly to allow me to have a short look at the bedrooms in the second floor after the tour had ended. Many thanks for that again!

After the guided tour had ended, visitors were allowed to discover the building from outside, its garden and swimming pool.

View of the "servants section" with kitchen entrance.

The freshly renovated pool with the house in the background.

Finally a few pictures of the front side of the house. 

The main entrance of the house. Also from outside the wave shaped ceiling in the lobby can clearly be seen.

Night train to Milano
After the guided tour had ended and I had discovered also the exterior and the garden I had to figure out how to get back to the far away station. During the tour I had met also another visitor from Japan who as well had taken the train and walked all the way from the station. As the temperatures were very high and we both felt tired we agreed to share a taxi back to the station. For this purpose we asked the guide whether she could call a cap for us which she was gladly to do. After she had called several companies and all of them had refused to pick us up in the middle of nowhere and drive us to a closeby railway station, we seemed to run out of options. At that time it was already to late to walk back to the station and still reach the train in time that I had to take in order to catch my night train from Gare de Lyon in Paris. The guide would have been happy to drive us but she had another tour starting so she couldn't leave the premises. In the end she called a good friend of hers who luckily was willing to help us and who
Train to Bologna
came quite soon by car to pick us up and drive us to the nearest railway station. We were still able to catch the train to Paris from Montfort-l'Amaury-Mere station. At this time I would like to express my deepest gratitude to this young lady that drove two strangers to the nearest train station and who did not accept a single cent from us or any other gift. I therefore would like to dedicate this post and all its pictures to her. Thanks to the very friendly and professional guide as well as her friend who drove us to the nearest train station I was still able to catch the night train leaving from Paris Gare de Lyon at 7.16 pm. After a good night sleep I woke up the next morning in Milano Centrale. The train had
Train to Riola
apparently reached Milano well ahead of schedule and after a short breakfast in the dinning car I was still able to catch an early train to Bologna. The journey to Bologna took about one hour. Despite the gained time I still had to wait about 90 minutes in Bologna until the next train to Riola left the station of Bologna Centrale. I spent the time for a short walk into the historic center of Bologna which I had never visited before. Then at 9.04 am I took the local train towards Poretta Terme. After departing Bologna the train soon started to climb into the Apennine Mountains reaching the small town of Riola after about 1 hour. From the small train station it was not far to my next Aalto destination.

Site No. 70: Church and Parish Centre Santa Maria Assunta in Riola / Italy (1966-80)

The Church of Santa Maria Assunta can already be seen when getting off from the train, however, a river is separating the station from the church. Luckily the closest bridge is only about 50 meters from the station. To reach the bridge one has to walk back into the direction from which the train came and turn then right crossing the bridge. At the other end of the bridge you will find the church to your right. The walk from the platform takes about 5 minutes. 

Right to left end of the bridge opens up a square on which's end the church stands. The bell tower itself stands in the middle of the square. The church was built during the 1970s and completed in 1978 after Aalto's dead. The bell tower, however, was not erected until 1993.

It is said that Aalto found his inspiration for the unique shape of the church by looking at the surrounding mountains and that he wanted to create a building that fits into its environment.

The facades are coated with mortared stone while the roof is made of copper sheeting.

The unique ceiling structure dominates also the interior of the church.

Once again this church is a great example of how Aalto unitized natural light in his buildings.

Right to the altar a slightly sunken baptistery can be found that features a large pyramidical skylight.

Departing from Riola
My visit in Riola was short as I still wanted to reach Venice the same day. Nevertheless, having finally the chance to see this masterpiece of Aalto's work has been worth the long way to Italy. It was also nice to finally see on of Aalto's realized works in the country he loved so much. Especially when looking at Aalto's earlier works in Jyväskylä such as the Worker's Club or the Muuramme Church one can clearly see where Aalto had gotten his inspiration from. Following the Church of Riola I made my way back towards Bologna and further to Venice in order to visit the last out of ten new Alvar Aalto sites during this very trip.

Train to Venice
With some delay, caused through a power cut, I reached Venice Santa Lucia station in the late afternoon. Right in front of the island station I got on the water bus in order to reach my final destination before closing time, the Venice Biennale. You can basically take any boat that runs towards Lido on the lines 1, 4.1, 5.1 or 6 and get off at the stop Giardini or Giardini Biennale. Using the line 1 is probably mostly recommended as it goes all the way down the Canale Grande passing the beautiful Rialto Bridge, the Accademia, Santa Salute and of course the San Marco Square before reaching the Venice Biennale.

Site No. 71: Finnish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in Venice / Italy (1955-56)

After Alvar Aalto had been commissioned in 1936 to design the Finnish pavilion for the Paris World Fair of 1937 and two years later for the 1939 New York World Fair he received in 1955 another offer to also design the Finnish pavilion for the 1956 Venice Biennale. Unfortunately, the first two pavilions were dismantled after the World fairs in Paris and New York ended. However, there are still interesting models on display of both pavilions in the Jyväskylä Alvar Aalto Museum. Nevertheless, the Finnish pavilion for the 1956 Venice Biennale endured and is still used this days, 60 years later, as  an exhibition site and open to visitors. From the water bus stop at Giardini and Giardini Biennale it is only a few meters to the entrance of the Venice Biennale. 
Map of the exhibition
The entrance offers the possibility to see different pavilions built by various countries. There are great buildings on display and it is definitely worth planning some time for this visit even so the historic centre of Venice is only a stone throw away and is certainly appealing. The Finnish pavilion which is located pretty much in the middle of the exhibition stands there a bit unimpressive in middle of gorgeous palaces that represent some of the largest nations in the world. Although its size and appearance seems first a bit simple, it is actually an interesting piece of architecture once viewed closer.

Alvar Aalto designed the pavilion in such a manner that it could be dismantled and stored for the time between the biennales. However, this was never been done since.

The name of the country the pavilion represented. The building itself is kept in the Finnish colors white and blue.

The coating is simple wood that was painted blue.

Guided tours are offered daily by the City of Jyväskylä. Unfortunately, I missed the tour due to my train running late. 

There was an exhibition going on inside the pavilion by a Finnish artist. As I was not sure whether the art can be photographed I at least took a picture of the very interesting ceiling construction. Otherwise the building is kept quite simple inside.

After I had a closer look at the surrounding pavilions I left the biennale and returned to the historic centre of Venice and the San Marco Square following Aalto's traces and enjoying the great Italian medieval architecture that has inspired the master so pertinently. 

Picture of Alvar Aalto on San Marco Square (picture taken from the permanent exhibition on Aalto's life in the Alvar Aalto Museum in Jyväskylä)

After a delicious dinner in a traditional Italian restaurant it was again time for me to leave the country that Alvar Aalto loved and inspired so much. I left Venice the same night by the overnight train to Vienna. Here is also where my European Aalto Summer Tour ends. However, my Interrail journey continued further to Vienna, Prague, Munich, Zurich, Geneva, Lyon all the way to Madrid and finally reached its turning point in Barcelona where I had the chance to enjoy the works of another great architect, Antoni Gaudi. After that I took the long way back to Finland returning with so many great memories and a total new understanding of Aalto's later work.

Departing Venice for Vienna