Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Literary Dose #21

"[Alvar] Aalto's prize-winning entry for the Finnish Pavilion in the Paris World Exhibition of 1937 was a rhetorical display of different techniques of timber construction, each expressing certain characteristics of wood...The importance of the Finnish Pavilion lay in its demonstration of Aalto's site-planning principles, wherein the plan of the building is invariably separated into two distinct elements, and the space between them being articulated as a space for human appearance, as we will find later not only in the Paris pavilion and Villa Mairea but also in the brick-clad Synatsalo Town Hall dating from 1949."
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"Aalto was categorically opposed to treating the topography surrounding a building in a decorative manner. He thought that the natural movement of people in and around a building should be exploited as the primary means for shaping the site...Aalto wrote:
One of the most difficult architectural problems is the shaping of the building's surroundings to the human scale. In modern architecture where the rationality of the structural frame and the building masses threaten to dominate, there is often an architectural vacuum in the leftover portions of the site. It would be good if, instead of filling up this vacuum with decorative gardens, the organic movement of people could be incorporated in the shaping of the site in order to create an intimate relationsip between Man and Architecture."
- Kenneth Frampton, from The Evolution of 20th Century Architecture (2007).

The Aalto quote within a quote is from Alvar Aalto (1963) by Alec Tiranti. Photograph of the Synatsalo Town Hall by Atelier FLIR.

4 comments:

  1. I find myself agreeing very much with what Aalto says ("It would be good if, instead of filling up this vacuum with decorative gardens, the organic movement of people could be incorporated in the shaping of the site in order to create an intimate relationsip between Man and Architecture."). But the building (and its site) illustrating this entry fails exactly in this regard, don't you think? It seems more expressive of "the rationality of the structural frame and the building masses [that] threaten to dominate," which results "often [in] an architectural vacuum in the leftover portions of the site."

    In other words, there's a kind of disconnect between the theory and the praxis, which isn't peculiar to Aalto or *his* contemporaries. You can find it everywhere through to the present, even when you substitute "intimate relationship" with "environmental sustainability" or "use oriented" or any of the other goals in urban design and architecture.

    Another curious thing: when I first saw the photo, I was immediately reminded of your earlier illustrations for the New Museum (it's that stacked boxes motif, perhaps?) -- http://archidose.blogspot.com/2007/12/new-now-open.html. Is it totally unfair of me to link these two?

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  2. Not having seen this or any building by Aalto in person, I'm unfortunately at the mercy of photographs and drawings. This photo may not express the idea in the text the strongest, in terms of "practicing what he preaches," though it does show a good deal of pedestrian movement considered in what is I think the "back" of the complex. I didn't want to show the overdone (even here) image of the grassy steps, though some of the other exterior shots in Atelier FLIR's flickr set show how widespread Aalto's consideration of the exteriors spaces is.

    As far as your comparison, which seems to be about massing more than anything, that same view, with the same approach, reminds me of Marcel Breueur's Whitney Art Museum, as this brick facade starts to create an outdoor space (perhaps relating to the green slope beyond), whereas the New Museum steps back (in a response to zoning) to become more object than space.

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  3. I agree with John, the previous poster, the photo you choose really doesn't present the building well at all. It's not even a good photograph. But I love the building. I visited this past spring. Though hard to photograph you might want to show some interior photos if you can find them. Also not far from here is Aalto's experimental house. I put pictures of both up on the archidose Flickr site.

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  4. I was able to visit the town hall about 2 years ago, we actually stayed in it over night in one of the few hotel rooms. The way it fits into the site is very beautiful. The small hill has even begun to reclaim the steps on the otherside of the building--almost completely grown over at least when I was there. The whole town was one of the most peaceful places I have ever visited, sort of quiet, clean, and rugged--what I would imagine the inside of an Evian bottle is like. The town hall and his experimental house both fit perfectly into the landscape.

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