Alvar Aalto Biography


Birthday: February 3, 1898 (Aquarius)

Born In: Kuortane

Alvar Aalto was a Finnish architect, designer, sculptor and painter. He is considered as one of the great leaders of planning, as well as a key advocate of midcentury modernism. His fifty-year career included work in the fields of furniture, textiles, painting, sculpting, landscape, urban planning, glassware, and jewelry. He was Finland’s most notable architect. His high stature was a result of his humanistic approach to modernism--a mixture of organic resources, self-expression, and fresh progression. His main objective was to create an overall work of art. Aalto did not merely design buildings but also gave much consideration to their interior elements, such as light fixtures, glassware scheme, and furniture. He redesigned architecture and the furniture of public structures by placing reliance upon the foundation of performance and man’s relationship with organic forms--using natural surroundings as a starting point for projects. He is known for contributing his alternative technique to the machine-age-governed detachment, visual tedium, and structural monotony of international style during the midcentury. As such, in Scandinavian communities, he is referred to as the “Father of Modernism.”
Quick Facts

Also Known As: Hugo Alvar Henrik Aalto

Died At Age: 78


Spouse/Ex-: Aino Aalto, Elissa Aalto

father: Johan Henrik Aalto

mother: Selma Matilda Hackstedt

children: Johanna

Sculptors Finnish Men

Died on: May 11, 1976

place of death: Helsinki

Founder/Co-Founder: Artek

More Facts

education: 1921 - Helsinki University of Technology

awards: Alvar Aalto Medal - 1967
Royal Gold Medal - 1957
IA Gold Medal - 1963

Childhood & Early Life
Aalto was born Hugo Alvar Henrik Aalto, in the small town of Kuortane, Finland, on February 3, 1898. He was one of the first of three children born to Johan Henrik Aalto, a surveyor, and Selma (Selly) Mathilda Hackestedt.
His mother Selma died in 1903 when Alvar was just five. His father Johan remarried and relocated his family to Jyvaskyla, where Aalto would attend school and go on surveying trips with his father during the summer.
Graduating from the Jyvaskyla Lyceum in 1916, he moved to Helsinki. From there he went on to receive excellent grades in architecture at the only Finnish school for architecture (now the Helsinki University of technology).
Finland was the first republic to declare its independence from Russia after the Russian Revolution. Alto also served in the Finnish National Militia during the Civil War that ensued until 1918.
By 1921, he was a trained architect with a graduate degree and two years later, set up office in Jyvaskyla. He hired and married his assistant and fellow architect, Aino Marsio. Their honeymoon in Italy had a profound impact on his Nordic understanding and creativity that lasted the rest of his career.
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Aalto began working while he was still a student. He began as an apprentice of Finnish architect, professor and painter, Armas Lingren. He also worked to design buildings for the ‘Tivoli’ region for the 1920 National Fair under Carolus Lindberg.
In 1922-1923, he collaborated with A. Bjerke on the design of the Congress Hall for the 1923 Goteborg World Fair. He also designed many structures for the Tampere Industrial Fair.
In 1927, he and his wife, Aino Marsio moved to Turku after Aalto won 1st place for the ‘Southwestern Finland Agricultural Cooperative Building.’ There, he proceeded to design the ‘Paimio Sanatorium.’
In 1933, he founded his architectural firm, ‘Artek,’ through which he worked on numerous major international contracts. Over the next four decades, he worked on buildings for multiple World Fairs and several masterpieces across the globe.
In addition to offering architect services, his company ‘Artek’ also sold furniture and other imported products. He also became the first furniture designer to apply the cantilever principle using wood in chair designs.
In 1938, his organic integration of man, buildings, and nature evolved. The result was his design of the most prestigious ‘Villa Mairea’ in Noormarkku.
His second wife, Elsa-Kaisa (Elissa) Mankiniemi, also his colleague, assisted in building the ‘Muuratsalo Experiemental House’ as their summer villa.
He was still actively working through the early 1970s. After his death, his office continued to complete his unfinished works, under his widow Elissa’s management. His office continues to operate as a restoration service of Aalto’s buildings.
Major Works
The ‘Southwestern Finland Agricultural Cooperative Building’, which fetched him his first award, propelled his career.
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The Paimio Sanatorium, completed in 1932, is a former sanatorium for tuberculosis. This building raised Aalto to the status of master of heroic functionalism.
Awards & Achievements
He received the Royal Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects.
He was also recognized by the United States for his services. In 1963, he was awarded the Gold Medal from the American Institute of Architects.
Personal Life & Legacy
Alvar Aalto married Aina in 1924. They had two children together: a son named Hamikar and a daughter named Johanna “Hanni” Alanen. In 1949, she died of cancer.
He married Elissa in 1952 and the couple remained married till his death in 1976.
He died on May 11, 1976 in Helsinki, Finland.
His most recent structure for the Art Museum in Jyvaskyla was named after him. The museum specializes in architecture and design and is known today as 'The Alvar Aalto Museum.'
He is quoted as stating, “The very essence of architecture consists of a variety and development reminiscent of natural organic life. This is the only true style in architecture.”
Frank Lloyd Wright described Aalto's design at the New York’s World Fair - the Finnish Pavilion was a “work of genius.”
His picture was printed on the final series of the 50 Finnish mark bill. This occurred before changing to the Euro

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