Alvar Aalto and Cultural Memory


  • Aino Niskanen



This article examines the meanings of the past which Aalto wanted to transpose into his architecture – what I term cultural memory. I search for their points of origin in Aalto’s education and travels, in particular his impressions of the Acropolis in Athens. For Aalto, a civic centre was “the face of a city”, which should be the citizens’ meeting place. Of particular importance to him was the ritual entry into a theatre. Of the many civic centres that Aalto designed, few were realised in their entirety. Three of them are examined, as well as the Helsinki University of Technology campus, which is interpreted as a city in miniature. Aalto fought against the idea of placing commercial functions in close proximity with his centres – but recent extensions and traffic arrangements have brought a new vibrancy to some of them. The way in which Aalto handled the idea of memory and his use of classical elements is studied. I argue that classicism seemed continuously attractive to Aalto.


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