The architecture and designs of Alvar Aalto share a common theme: their consideration of natural forms. While studying architecture as a young man, Aalto was greatly influenced by the Bauhaus movement, which emphasized the marriage of form and function and discouraged ornamentation. Aalto, who grew up among the rolling hills and forests of Jyväskylä, built upon this concept, taking inspiration from his surroundings. He saw beauty in the standardization of nature, the combining of cells to make an extraordinary number of possible variations. Rather than imposing upon nature or resisting its influence, Aalto took advantage of the potential of organic forms to create products and environments that would build a cohesive, functional, beautiful world. His masterful expression of this philosophy is what contributes to the longevity of his designs, and our intuitive appreciation of them.
Using the natural surroundings as a starting point for his design process became the trademark of Aalto's architecture. His first true opportunity to do so was the secluded Paimio Sanatorium, set deep in the Paimio forests. The curved entryway, maximizing of natural light, and use of native woods in the design were carefully selected to both enhace the experience of patients staying there, and to make the structure feel like a seamless addition to the environment.
Aalto's organic philosophy is perhaps most fully expressed in the building considered his masterpiece: Villa Mairea. The play between rigid and flowing forms in the structure and furnishings created a conversation about humanity's relationship to nature in a newly modern era. The success of the design confirms Aalto's belief that standardization is an element of the natural world.
Exacting with every detail, Aalto would even invent new building materials to better express a designs intention. He developed a specialized kind of brick to achieve the shell-like curves of the Finnish House of Culture, and would often experiment with materials and form through fine arts, like the birch relief pictured above.
Perhaps Aalto's most famous manufacturing invention, the wood bending technique he first developed to create the iconic Stool 60 gave rise to a host of organically inspired designs. As nature is composed of building blocks contributing to a whole, Aalto filled his buildings with furniture that reiterated the natural influences.
Even Aalto's use of birch as the primary material for his furniture celebrates the natural resources of Finland, and his most minimalist designs are softened by rounded edges or flexible forms, like in the Armchair 401 and the Ceiling Lamp A338. The silhouettes are complete in and of themselves. Without superfluous ornamentation, they could be combined infinitely to create settings suited to individual tastes and uses.
Alvar Aalto saw that people are not separate from the complexity of nature, but a part of it. Design, intended for human use, must therefore be in agreement with nature, and not opposed to its forms and influences. This line of thinking is echoed in much of the ecological beliefs of modern day. Perhaps, the city Aalto dreamed of - one with green areas at the heart and extending throughout with wildlife and plant life in harmony- could still be achieved with greater consideration of nature in our designs today.