Riihitie 20: The Aalto Family Home, Studio & Laboratory

Riihitie 20: The Aalto Family Home, Studio & Laboratory

Aaron Able
Sep 14, 2009

Name: Alvar Aalto & family
Location: Munkkiniemi neighborhood of Helsinki, Finland
Size: approximately 2,200 square feet
Years lived in: 40 years

Alvar Aalto's first building built in Helsinki was his own home and architecture studio. A Scandinavian interpretation of the International Style of the age, Aalto's home is a great example of his design principles of using natural light, breaking down barriers between indoor and outdoor space and the importance of scale, circulation and flow in architecture.

From the street, the home is nearly windowless and quite plain — most windows are on the rear and sides of the building where they can take full advantage of the limited (in winter) Finnish sunlight and the view to the sea.

When Alvar Aalto and his wife Aino left their home in Turku and moved in with their two children in 1936, the building was also a workplace and studio until the mid-50s when a larger studio was constructed nearby. At its busiest, the home was also the studio of up to 20 architects and designers!

Alvar's first wife and collaborator, Aino, died in 1949. When Alvar married architect Elissa in 1952, she also contributed design work to the home and office.

The home really is laboratory for the Aalto's to try out new designs and furnishings. Many of the lights and larger furnishings are prototypes and experiments that would sometime find places in later projects. Founders of Artek, much of the Aaltos' furniture is still in production.

Much of the information in this tour is included in the captions of the


Completed in 1936, the home at Riihitie 20 would be Aalto's primary residence until his death in 1976 and his second wife, Elissa's, residence until her death in 1994. The home remained in the Aalto family until 1998 when ownership was passed to the Alvar Aalto Foundation. After 2 years of conservation efforts ending in 2002, the cozy family home is open as a museum.

For specific information on visiting hours, admission and appointments see the Alvar Aalto guide to Helsinki buildings.

While I was photographing the home after our tour, Dwell Editor in Chief Sam Grawe was compiling a post on Aalto's designs for lamps and lighting — you can see his post over at Dwell | Alvar Aalto in Lights.

(Images: Aaron Able)

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