Thursday, November 6, 2014

4 Years of Alvar Aalto's Architecture

Dear reader,

what started in October 2010 with a single tiny post has turned into a blog containing more than 1,000 pictures and 40 postings and has so far attracted more than 27,000 readers. Thanks to all your interest and positive comments on my blog I have kept visiting and writing about Alvar Aalto's architecture for such a long time. Much has happened during these four years. Altogether I visited 55 Alvar Aalto sites in 5 different countries and 16 different cities. Almost all of Aalto's major work has been covered with this year adding three more masterpieces namely the Paimio Sanatorium, The National Pensions Institute and the House of Culture to the listings. Nevertheless there are still 25 more buildings to go, to discover and to write about. During this fifth year I will especially focus on the United States and have plans to visit all four Aalto sites on this side of the ocean. So stay tuned, enjoy the pictures and stories about Alvar Aalto's architecture, try out the Ultimative Jyväskylä Aalto Walk and feel free to write and give me feedback at any time.

Oops, before I forget, there are some new pictures and inside views added to the postings of Viitatorni High Rise Building, The Academic Bookstore and the Office Building of the Helsinki Electricity Company. Go and check them out if you like, the links for direct access are provided above when clicking on the building's names. Besides that I also added a side bar on the right that lists all buildings I have visited with a direct link to access the certain post in which I reported about them.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Ultimative Jyväskylä Aalto Walk

City of Jyväskylä
Today I would like to invite you to join me for a walk through the city which has the most Alvar Aalto buildings in the world, Jyväskylä. Not only has Jyväskylä a university designed by Alvar Aalto but also the swimming hall, the city museum, the city theater, the police station, the long time tallest building of the town as well as Aalto's own museum and many other buildings are designed by him. Before leaving my beloved Aalto city for one year and in honnor to an architect and co-fan of Aalto's work who visited me in Jyväskylä I took this walk which I documented in pictures. These pictures I want to share with you today while also giving some instructions how to follow the route so that you can do your own Aalto walk in case you planning to visit Jyväskylä and want to see more of Aalto's work than just the museum and the university. All the buildings presented in this walk can easily reached by foot so leave your car at the Aalto museum. To complete the walk and in order to have enough time to admire the architecture you should however plan at least half a day because there is a lot to see. Altogether we will look at 15 different buildings!

Against the direction of the original walk I will start this time from the Alvar Aalto museum because this is most likely your first stop when visiting Jyväskylä. It is also a good starting point in this sense as the museum gives you already a good overview of many of the buildings you are going to see, providing you the necessary background information and interesting pictures and artifacts of the design and building phases of the different buildings.

1. Alvar Aalto Museum (Alvar Aallon Katu 7)

The ultimative place to visit for every Aalto fan. Not only tells the museum the story about Alvar Aalto's life and displays his work through many pictures, scale size models and furniture, lamps and glassware designed by Alvar Aalto, even the building itself was entirely designed by the architect himself. Besides that regular changing exhibitions make it worth visiting the museum more than once in case you have the chance.

Don't miss the cafeteria downstairs and the shop next to the cashier. For those ones on a budget, the admissions is always free on Fridays between October and May. For more information check also here.

More information and pictures also from inside can be found here

2. Central Finland Museum (Alvar Aallon Katu 7)

As you might notice from the address the next building cannot be far. Indeed the Central Finland Museum is just located next to the Alvar Aalto museum. If you have the time don't hesitate to have a look inside. The exhibition tells the story about the Central Finland region and Jyväskylä itself and has always interesting changing exhibitions on the ground and third floor. Also here as a small hint, the museum follows the same policy as the Alvar Aalto museum by offering free entrance on Fridays between October and May.

More information and pictures also from inside can be found here

3. University of Jyväskylä, Faculty of Sports and Health Sciences (Keskussairalantie 4)

Also the next Aalto building isn't far all you need to do to get there is taking the stairs about 30 meters left from the Central Finland Museum's main doors and cross the street above the hill using the pedestrian light.

Now you are entering the University of Jyväskylä main campus. The first building we want to look at is the Faculty of Sports and Health Science building which was the last building designed by Alvar Aalto for the University of Jyväskylä. Go and have a look inside its impressive lobby and take a little walk around.

More information and pictures also from inside can be found here

4. University of Jyväskylä, Former Student Dormitory & Student Cafeteria Lozzi

Just on the opposite site you will find the red-brick building of the former student dormitory and if you keep walking alongside the building you will eventually ran into the student cafeteria Lozzi. Go inside and have a look at the fantastic cafeteria in the second floor and enjoy maybe a cup of coffee or even have lunch there in case the place isn't too crowded with students. However, please note that Lozzi is currently under renovation and will reopen in 2015 so the access to the area around the building might be restricted.

More information and pictures also from inside can be found here

5. University of Jyväskylä, Staff Meeting Hall "Lyhty"

Right next to Lozzi is the small extension called Lyhty, have a walk around, it is an interesting building.

More information and pictures also can be found here

6. University of Jyväskylä, Swimming Hall "Aalto Alvari" (Pitkäkatu 2)

Before approaching the main building of the University which is right in front of Lyhty lets quickly take a turn to the left walking around the sports ground passing by the Teaching Practice School and Gymnasium on the right. Pass by the barrier and turn then left and you will directly head towards the main entrance of the swimming hall. If you have enough time, go and take a swim in a Alvar Aalto designed swimming hall. Otherwise to see most of the architecture you can just pass by the cashier on the left and walk straight towards the cafeteria. From there you can see most of the swimming hall's interior. Take also a short walk around the building it is definitely worth it.

More information and pictures also from inside can be found here

7. University of Jyväskylä, Teacher Practice School and Gymnasium

We already passed by the building but let's now come back to it while returning towards the sports ground. These red-brick building can be found on the left side of the sports ground when approaching from the swimming hall. While there have a look at the architecture, some elements might remind you about Greek architecture and indeed this building is one of the reasons why Jyväskylä is called the "Athens of Finland".

More information and pictures also from inside can be found here

8. University of Jyväskylä, Main Building (Seminaarikatu 15)

Finally we will return to the main building which is directly connected to the Teacher Practice School. You can enter the building (unfortunately currently under renovation until 2015) through the back door and have a look inside the huge lobby which features also a small cafeteria. Hungry again? You might also get the chance to have a look at the Aalto library. However, definitely don't miss the main entrance of the building which is really magnificent.

More information and pictures also from inside can be found here

Leaving the University of Jyväskylä behind we will now have to walk a bit before reaching the next Aalto building. However our path follows Jyväskylä's high street so you can be sure to also get to know Jyväskylä while wandering on Aalto's traces. Leave the university main building through the main entrance and start walking down the hill passing by some of the oldest building of the University of Jyväskylä dating back to the 1860s. Once you reach the end of the campus keep on walking straight down Kauppakatu for several block until you reach church park which is on the right. You can't miss it as you can see the red-brick church standing in the middle of the park.

9. Administrative and Culture Center, Jyväskylä Theater (Vapaudenkatu 36)   

Jyväskylä Town Hall
Enter the park and head towards the church, pass it on the right side and you will directly look at the next Alvar Aalto site, the Administrative and Culture Center of Jyväskylä. On the right by the way is the freshly renovated town hall which is worth a look as well. The Jyväskylä Theater is probably the most outstanding of the three buildings forming the Administrative and Cultural Center that was designed by Alvar Aalto. Have a closer look at the theater and in case the front door is open don't hesitate to enter the lobby to see more of this great building. Another great place to see more of the building is also from the terrace which you can enter through the park on the right side. From there you get also a good view on the other two buildings as well as the harbour of Jyväskylä.

More information and pictures also here

10. Administrative and Cultural Center, City Offices (Hannikaisenkatu 15)

Cross the park behind the Theater and head first to the right. You will end up right in front of the second building of the Administrative and Cultural Center, the City Offices. This kind of administrative buildings are often quite unspectacular in their design, this building however has a lot of interesting details to detect so take some time having a look at the exterior.

More information and pictures also here

11. Administrative and Cultural Center, Former Police Headquarters    (Hannikaisenkatu 17)

Finally have a look at the third building which is to the right of the City Theater. This is the Former
Police Headquarters which is nowadays also used by the city administration. Take a look at its architecture, especially the entrance area at the street corner is interesting. Inside you will also find a cafeteria.

More information and pictures also here

12. Defense Corps Building (Kilpisenkatu 8)

Not far from the Administrative and Cultural Center is the Defense Corps Building. Not necessarily a beauty and in rather bad shape but as it is on our way we should cover it. Walk up the street from the corner of the Former Police Headquarters towards the main entrance of the City Theater. Cross the street and return to the church park. Walk up another 30 meters and look toward the opposite side of the street where you will see a building covered in some sheeting. This is one of the oldest Aalto buildings in town. Cross the street and have a look at the entrance door which is very interesting. Otherwise due to the covering you won't see much of the building. Believe me however, since the covering the building looks much better than before.

More information and pictures also here

13. Jyväskylä Worker's Club (Väinönkatu 7)

Follow the street upwards for another 50 meters and turn right, you will directly enter the walking
street, one of the nicest parts of Jyväskylä. Take your time, have a look around while you stroll down the lively street. Cross the center point of the city called the Compass and head down until the next crossing then turn right. Just around the corner you will look at the next Aalto building the Jyväskylä Worker's Club. Looking at this building might give you the impression that you have just arrived to Italy. This building could also stand in Venice. Take your time and admire the structure and the fact that this building does absolutely not fit into the surrounding street picture which makes it so special. Have also a closer look at the entrance doors on the left and if you are lucky they aren't locked and you might even have the chance for a short look at the wonderful interior of the Aalto Hall.

More information and pictures also here

14. Aira Apartment House, Railway Workers' Building (Tapionkatu 2)

Now it is time to leave the city center behind. Follow Väinönkatu upwards, take the next crossing and keep going straight all the way up the hill for about 250 meters. Follow the street until it starts to make a slight turn towards the right. Still keep walking uphill for about another 20 meters, then turn to the right and you end up right in front of the next Aalto building. This apartment house was designed for railway workers and at first sight it looks just like any other apartment building from the 1920s. However, if you start to look more closely you will be surprised how many interesting and little details you might find. Have a look around the building and its backyard.

More information and pictures also here

15. Viitatorni High-Rise Apartment Building (Viitaniementie 16)

Finally one more to go. This will take a slightly longer walk and you might feel tired but believe me it is absolutely worth it because we are going to see the tallest building in town, it was at least for many years until just recently. Follow the same street you came from the city centre until the next bigger crossing. Change the sidewalk by crossing the street to use the tunnel passing under the street. After the tunnel keep walking the same direction on and on. At some point the street starts to decent and when you expect it the least just to your left the Viitatorni High-Rise Apartment Building will appear. You won't miss this 13 stories building. Take your time and walk around it, try to look at it from different angles. Unfortunately it is very hard getting inside, unless some nice resident might open the front door for you but more than the lobby you won't be able to see from inside either.

More information and pictures also here

Well this is it. I hope you enjoyed this ultimative Aalto walk through Jyväskylä and give me perhaps some feedback in case you followed my recommendations, telling me how it was. If you are planning to stay longer in Jyväskylä and want to see even more Aalto sites, there are three more places you should visit. These are the Säynätsalo Town Hall, Muuramme Church and of course the Experimental House in Muuratsalo. You can reach the first two sites by bus from Jyväskylä, the third site however, is more difficult to reach and you can only enter the area when there is a guided tour for which you need to be registered beforehand. Tours are only operated during the summer at selected days. Besides the buildings presented above Aalto has designed also a few other buildings in and around Jyväskylä. These however, are mainly private buildings and not open for the public and therefore not mentioned in the list above.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The House of Culture

Site No. 55: The House of Culture in Helsinki (1952-58)

As already promised earlier, today I would like to present a new Aalto site, the House of Culture also known as Kultuuritalo in Finland. I have visited this site several times before, as far as I can remember back I was there already in 2004. In 2012, after I had started writing this blog, I did my next visit. By that time the entire building was undergoing a larger renovation. Finally this summer I was able to properly visit the site, not only to be able to admire the exterior but I was also lucky enough to participate in one of the guided tours. Lucky not only in the sense that the building was just freshly renovated but also due to the fact that guided tours are only offered each year 15 times during the month of August. In case you cannot participate in one of the 15 tours the only way to see parts of the building's interior is to participate in one of the many events held in the building or by visiting the cafeteria which provides warm lunch on a daily bases. However, to really get a look behind the scenes participation in one of the guided tours is probably the only way.
Street view of the House of Culture during renovations in March 2012

The House of Culture is located quite central in Helsinki and can easily be reached by public transportation using e.g. tram 3 (stop Urheilutalo), tram 8 (stop Linnanmäki) or even more convenient bus 23 which stops right in front of the building (stop Kultuuritalo). The address is Sturenkatu 4.  

The building itself was ordered by the Finnish Communist Party in the mid 1950s. Even tough not a member of the party Aalto did not charge the Communist Party for designing the building, in return however the party gave Alvar Aalto complete artistic freedom. Interesting is also that a large amount of work during construction was completed by volunteers of the party. The building was owned by the party until its bankruptcy in the 1990s. Then the building was sold to the Finnish State who is nowadays the owner of the property.

As there was a lack of halls for larger audiences in Helsinki after the war the Communist Party tried to fill this gap by building the House of Culture. Until completion of Finlandia Hall the House of Culture featured the largest concert hall in Helsinki. Many major cultural events took place in the concert hall during the 1960s, 70s and 80s and famous international artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Led Zepplin, Tina Turner and Metallica had performed in the House of Culture.

Besides a large concert hall the House of Culture houses also smaller halls in the basement and in the upper floor as well as a lunch restaurant and a office building that is directly connected with the halls through a corridor. The concert hall section was kept in red brick and looks due to its curved forms rather futuristic. The office track on the other side is kept in copper and its form is rather rectangular.

Special about the building is also that the red brick used for the concert hall can only be found at this Aalto building and wasn't used in any other building designed by Aalto. The only exception of course is the Experimental House in Muuramme where this special red brick can be found, too. Its rectangular form gives the building a special touch. 

Interesting are also the curved walls which are not featuring any windows

Here we can now see the connecting corridor between the two building parts. The corridor is kept in the rear allowing a kind of inner yard between the two building parts

Towards the road a roof can be found that offers arriving visitors shelter from rain or snow and functions at the same time also as a space keeper between the inner yard and the road passing by the House of Culture

Here are more views of the office section

Next we will have a look at the entrances starting with the entrance through which the large concert hall can be entered. Here we see again the typical Aalto entrance doors known from so many other public buildings

Next we have a look at the entrance doors to the so called "Alppi Sali" or "Alp Room" which is a smaller hall located in the basement of the building. The room got its name most probably from the nearby neighbourhood which is called "Alppi"

Next to the entrance doors of "Alppi Sali" beside the road is an information board placed that contains information about upcoming events taking place in the House of Cultures

So much for the exterior, let's now enter the building through the entrance doors of the large concert hall and have a look at the lobby which houses a bar, a waiting area and a coat room

Interesting is also this work of art on display in the lobby showing an important scene from the Finnish national epos Kalevala

Another interesting detail in the lobby is this small stage that was added later. It was used by bands performing for Friday night dances that were held in the lobby during the 1960s and 1970s

Before climbing up the stairs to the large concert hall we first will quickly visit the "Alppi Sali" in the basement. As already shown above "Alppi Sali" has its own entrance from the road but there is also a connecting door between the lobby and the entrance to "Alppi Sali". Before taking the stairs down the visitor of "Alppi Sali" passed by a cashier window where entrance tickets are sold

"Alppi Sali" itself has a stage but the seating capacity is rather limited. The hall has been mostly used for theater performances

Back in the main lobby we climb next the stairs up which lead to an intermediate floor that houses another waiting area. In the lobby several stair cases can be found in order to separate the audience and guide them towards the right section where their seats are located

Here we see now pictures of the intermediate floor before entering the main concert hall. Interesting here is also the indirect lighting of this almost windowless building

Finally we are entering the large concert hall

It is almost unbelievable that this building was designed in the 1950s. Bot interior and exterior were in my opinion much ahead of their time

The wall decor and the lighting, just fabulous...

Finally a view of the audience room from the stage

... and the stage itself

Before leaving the concert hall part let's have a short look into the third audience hall, a lecture hall located right next to the large hall. Interesting here are the roof lamps and of course the roof itself...

Next we use the corridor that connects the two building parts. Unfortunately it was not possible during the tour to visit the office section of the building. The office spaces are rented out to companies and are therefore not open to the general public. An interesting detail of the corridor is the indirect lighting through the roof windows seen in many Aalto buildings as well.

The tour ended in the entrance hall in the first floor of the corridor which is the only part of the building that is open to the public during business hours and can be visited without a guide. The earlier mentioned lunch restaurant is located right next to the entrance hall.

The entrance hall features a model of the staircases used to connect the lobby with the large concert hall 

Besides that the entrance hall has a small coat room, a waiting area and a reception

Often refereed as one of Aalto's major works the House of Cultures is indeed something special. Not only its futuristic outside with its round forms but especially the interior is really outstanding. It is a pity that this building is hardly accessible as the amount of guided tours is so limited. When visiting Helsinki and hunting for Alvar Aalto's architecture, don't miss out this building. Even tough you might not be able to attend at one of the very few guided tours, go there, admire the building's exterior and have at least a cup of coffee at the lunch restaurant which is open during all weekdays. It is worth it.