The Transcendent Power of Good Design: How Alvar Aalto Created (Quite Possibly) The Perfect Place to Work

published Feb 17, 2017
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(Image credit: My Dubio)

After 20 years of working there, Alvar Aalto’s architecture practice outgrew the modest studio space in his home near Helsinki, and in 1956 he re-located it to a building just down the road. The new spot, designed by Aalto himself, was an architect’s architecture firm, with soaring spaces, wide expanses of glass, and abundant light. In short: it was the perfect space to work.

(Image credit: My Dubio)
(Image credit: Joelix)

The most photographed room of the practice is an enormous, double-height expanse that functioned as a gathering space and also as Aalto’s personal office. Brackets suspended from the second floor balcony allowed him to test out different lighting concepts. The curved shape of this room defined the edge of an outdoor amphitheater, where Aalto would occasionally host movie screenings, with the film projected onto one wall of the U-shaped building. The connection between indoor and outdoor spaces was an important element in all of his architectural work.

(Image credit: Cate St. Hill)
(Image credit: Joelix)

Upstairs were the workstations for the drafters, humble compared with the lofty space downstairs but still quite bright and roomy compared with most architectural offices (at least if my experience has been any indication). The apprentices are long gone, but the lamps, binders, rolls of drawings, and even a hanging illustration of Aalto’s summer house remain to give visitors an idea of what it might have been like to work there.

We tend to think of work as an obligation, rather than a pastime, something to be endured rather than enjoyed. But Aalto’s thoughtful eye to design extended to his office as well, proving that every space deserves a touch of the spectacular—and that even everyday activities can be uplifted by the transcendent power of good design.

To see more photos and read more about Aalto’s studio, check out:

Aalto Studio, Tiilimaki, Helsinki from Cate St. Hill

Our own tour of Aalto’s studio here on Apartment Therapy