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Alvar Aalto architecture proposed for Unesco World Heritage List

The process supports Alvar Aalto Foundation’s long-term work on preserving and protecting architectural heritage.

Finland is updating its tentative list in line with the World Heritage Agreement.

In summer 2018, an open, online questionnaire survey was conducted for new nominations to be world heritage sites, which were considered in 2019 by a workgroup set up by the Finnish Heritage Agency. At the same time, they assessed the potential of these sites for meeting the criteria for Outstanding Universal Values, OUV – a prerequisite for inclusion in the World Heritage List. The workgroup estimated that two of the nominations had a chance of success in an international appraisal. These were the Alvar Aalto Foundation’s nominations “Alvar Aalto’s humane, modern architecture” and “Districts resulting from systematic housing work during and after the Second World War (1940–1954)”.

At the request of the Ministry of Education and Culture, the Finnish Heritage Agency has produced a proposal for the tentative list, “Alvar Aalto’s humane, modern architecture”, which has been created in close collaboration with experts from the Alvar Aalto Foundation and ICOMOS Finland. The international seminar “HUMANISTIC MODERNISM” – Works by Alvar Aalto in the World Heritage Context held in Lahti in autumn 2019 laid down good guidelines for the work on the tentative list proposal. One guideline was that the series of Aalto sites could possibly be augmented later on with sites outside of Finland, if they seamlessly complement the whole,” says Alvar Aalto Foundation Managing Director Tommi Lindh.

In the first phase, the proposal will consist of 13 modern Finnish buildings or districts designed by Alvar Aalto’s architect’s office, which form a coherent whole that, according to the experts’ assessment, has a chance of inclusion in the World Heritage List. The set of sites may change during the production of the actual World Heritage List proposal. The nominated sites are: Studio Aalto; The Aalto House; Finlandia Hall; National Pensions Institute (headquarters); House of Culture; Jyväskylä University Campus Area; Muuratsalo Experimental House; Paimio Sanatorium; Seinäjoki Civic Centre; Sunila Pulp Mill Residential Area; Säynätsalo Town Hall; Villa Mairea; and the Church of the Three Crosses (Vuoksenniska Church).

 

The sites designed by Alvar Aalto’s architect’ office form a body of modern architecture unlike any other World Heritage sites in Finland. The UNESCO World Heritage List currently includes two bodies of works of international modern architecture: the buildings of the Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier and of the American Frank Lloyd Wright. Aalto’s buildings represent the global cultural heritage of modern architecture, while at the same time reflecting the development of the construction of the Finnish welfare state and a comprehensive design approach.

“Aalto already began moving away from mechanistic functionalism early on, in the 1930s. The focal point of the design became the user – the individual and the community – whose overall wellbeing was targeted with the aid of architecture. This humane approach attracted international attention and appreciation right from the start, and this trend significantly influenced the development of Finnish architecture – and still does today,” says Alvar Aalto Foundation Architect Jonas Malmberg.

In the year 2000, the Alvar Aalto Foundation made a decision to propose Aalto’s architecture for the World Heritage List and, on the centenary of Alvar Aalto’s birth in 1998, proposed the official protection of all of Aalto’s buildings. The Foundation’s long-term work on preserving and protecting architectural heritage has expanded into a fruitful collaboration with an international network of Alvar Aalto cities.

“The Alvar Aalto Foundation supports the pursuit of World Heritage status. The full series is still limited, and in practice cannot include all the sites that are considered important. Nevertheless, it will add to interest in Aalto’s production as a whole, and in the Finnish architectural heritage. World Heritage offers a variety of opportunities for architecture education, exhibitions and events, tourism, built heritage work, and international collaboration,” Lindh says.

Further information about World Heritage:

Finnish Heritage Agency’s website

UNESCO website

 

Studio Aalto (1954-55, 1962-63). Photo: Maija Holma © Alvar Aalto Foundation