Alvar Aalto was not only the most important Finnish architect of the 20th century but also a leading modern furniture designer. His chair “Paimio” (1931), with bentwood elements and his curvilinear vase “Savoy” (1936) have become major design icons that have laid the cornerstone for organic design. Alvar Aalto studied architecture under Armas Lindgren at the Helsinki Technical Institute from 1916 to 1921.
From 1943 to 1958 Alvar Aalto was head of the Finnish Architects’ Association SAFA, from 1946 to 1948 he was a professor of architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachussetts. From the outset Alvar Aalto was not just an architect; designing objects and furniture played an important role in his practice.
Two of his most important early buildings are the municipal library in Viipuri (1927-35) and the tuberculosis sanatorium in Paimio (1928-33), where he also designed the entire interior and furniture and its furnishings. Alvar Aalto experimented with bending plywood and laminated wood for furniture from 1925. In the 1930s he produced revolutionary chair designs with curvilinear forms, including “Paimio” (1931) and in 1933 the “L-leg” stackable chair with L-shaped legs. In 1935 Alvar Aalto, his wife Aino and friends founded the Artek company to ensure international marketing and distribution of his furniture and other designs. The L-leg chair was followed by the “Y-Leg” (1946-1947) and the “Fan-Leg” (1954).
In 1936 the Aalto practice designed the entire interior of the Savoy, a luxury restaurant in Helsinki, and with it the glass vase of the same name. From 1938 he produced the “tea trolley” with large wheels. By 1936 Alvar Aalto was showing vases and tableware at the design competitions launched by Iittala, through which objects of Finnish designs were chosen to be shown at the 1937 Paris Exposition.
Concerned with “humanizing architecture” Aalto rejected artificial materials such as steel tubing for his furniture. Wood was for him a “form-inspring, profoundly human material”. Alvar Aalto’s organic formal language inspired many designers after him.