Organic functionalism

For almost a century, Alvar Aalto has been synonymous with the very best of Finnish design. His timeless creations are at the heart of glass brand Iittala, and the relationship between Iittala and Aalto dates back over 80 years. Aalto’s design philosophy – blurring the lines between the man-made and the organic, and never losing sight of functionality and beauty – has served as a guiding light for the brand over the decades. The vases that Aalto designed in the 1930s remain among Iittala’s bestsellers, and have become an international byword for Nordic style. But glassware wasn’t, initially, an obvious path for Aalto.

Aalto was, first and foremost, an architect. In his 50-year career, he is thought to have designed around 500 buildings. His initial approach was heavily informed by the Functionalist branch of the Modernist movement that swept across Europe in the early 20th century, but his buildings were profoundly different. Functionalism demands that buildings be designed in direct response to their purpose, with aesthetics playing a lesser role. For Aalto, beauty and function went hand-in-hand. His buildings were deeply connected to nature, with a focus on natural materials and natural light, and centred around creating a warm, human experience.

The Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Aalborg is Aalto’s only architectural design in Denmark. Aalto won the commission for the project in 1958, as part of a team with his second wife Elissa and Danish architect Jean-Jacques Baruël. Although Aalto’s drawings were the basis for the design, Baruël executed much of the project, but it bears some of the signature hallmarks of Aalto’s work. Natural light is diffused throughout with the clever placement of skylights and windows, and the combination of glass, wood, copper and marble used around the building helps connect it to its location.

This story was created in partnership with Iittala.

Continue reading in Oak volume Nine