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“Human life is a combination of tragedy and comedy. The shapes and designs that surround us are the music accompanying this tragedy and this comedy.” Alvar Aalto

Yes Mr Aalto again. And this time, we speak in praise of Artek. “One chair is enough” may be viewed as an odd slogan for any commercial enterprise; but there an implicit questioning of consumption, more specifically, overconsumption. Less is more. A conscious consumption, then.

Below is an image of the ‘manifest’. Yes, a statement of core beliefs wherein art, architecture/design and propaganda form three clear sections.


His chair “Paimio” (1931), with bentwood elements and his curvilinear vase “Savoy”, (1936) have become heirlooms, major design icons that pass from generation to generation, whilst also laying the cornerstone for organic design.

From the outset then, Alvar Aalto was not just an architect; designing objects and furniture played an important role in his practice.

Early Buildings by Aalto

Two of his most important early buildings are the municipal library in Viipuri (1927-35), and the tuberculosis sanatorium in Paimio (1928-33), where he also designed the entire interior and furniture and its furnishings.

In 1935 Alvar Aalto, Aino (so often an understated protagonist!!) and friends founded the Artek company to ensure international marketing and distribution of his furniture and other designs.

By 1936 he was showing vases and tableware at the design competitions launched by Iittala, through which objects of Finnish designs were chosen to be shown at the 1937 Paris Exposition.

Alvar Aalto also designed the Finnish Pavilions for the 1937 Paris Exposition and the 1939 New York World’s Fair. In 1938 the Museum of Modern Art in New York mounted the first large-scale retrospective of Alvar Aalto’s work, followed by others in 1984 and 1998.

Starting with the influence of the Arts and Craft and the International Modern movements with overtones of Finnish National Romanticism with its preference for natural materials, Aalto arrived in both his buildings and his furnishings at an interpretation of functionalism that was distinctively his own.

Profoundly focussed on “humanising architecture”, he rejected artificial materials; wood, for him, was a “form-inspring, profoundly human material”. Alvar Aalto and Artek, through an organic formal language continue to inspire us to this day.

At minima. Birmingham, we honour the legacy. Come and share…

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