The Alvar Aalto Museum

The Alvar Aalto Museum

The Alvar Aalto Museum is sited on a slope leading down towards Lake Jyväsjärvi. Alvar Aalto's design for the museum building was completed in 1973. The building, together with that of the Museum of Central Finland (Alvar Aalto 1961) form a centre of culture in the immediate vicinity of the University of Jyväskylä (Alvar Aalto 1951-1971).

Both the museum buildings are representative of Aalto's 'white period', but they differ in their external appearance and scale from other public buildings of the same period. The decade that separates the design of the buildings can be seen particularly in the elevations; the rectangular shaped façade of the Museum of Central Finland rising up out of the slope is a reflection of the geometric practicality of Functionalism, while the Alvar Aalto Museum is more closed in, but at the same time more free in its form. In the early 1990s, the Museum of Central Finland was extended into Ruusupuisto, the adjoining park, according to the designs of Elissa Aalto.

Above a high, white-painted concrete plinth, the elevations of the Alvar Aalto Museum are clad in light-coloured ceramic tiles named 'Halla', the Finnish word for 'Frost', and made by the famous Finnish porcelain manufacturers, Arabia. The vertical bands of baton-shaped, glazed tiles divide up the rampart-like elevations to form a relief that gives a strong effect of depth when the surface is washed with light. The rampart-like quality is emphasised by the vertical battens on the roof windows of the exhibition galleries, which cause the roof lights to merge into the façade when looked at from a certain angle.

The entrance façade has no windows apart from a few tiny openings close to the doors. The surface of the massive doors is copper and there is a hint of marble on the left-hand side of the doorway. The roofscape is dominated by the east-facing roof lights.

The lower floor houses the foyer and cloakrooms, café, Alvar Aalto Museum Shop, offices, library and space for storage and for the photographer. There is a small flat at the back of the building containing offices, plus a studio formerly used by the local society of artists, which now acts as the museum workshop 'URBS'. From the café there is a view towards a series of open-air pools, with water trickling from one to another along the route of what was once a natural stream. Light draws one from the dimly-lit foyer to the stairway leading up to large exhibition gallery on the upper floor.

The upper-floor exhibition gallery is about 700 m2 in area. The wave-like surface of the high rear wall clad in pine battens is a reminder of the wall of Aalto's pavilion at the New York World's Fair in 1939. Daylight filters into the gallery through the roof lights. Despite its lightness, the space is contained and intimate. The large exhibition hall houses the museum's permanent exhibition - Alvar Aalto, Architect. (more about the exhibition) In the Gallery there are changing exhibitions on architecture and design.

The Alvar Aalto Museum has a total area of 1750 m2 and a volume of about 7550 m3.

text: Hanni Sippo | photo: Permanent Exhibition of The Alvar Aalto Museum by R.C. Snellman Alvar Aalto Foundation