The Muuratsalo Experimental House is situated on the western shore of the island of Muuratsalo. The tower of Muurame Church (Alvar Aalto 1926-29) can be seen on the opposite shore. Elissa and Alvar Aalto discovered the site for the house while Säynätsalo Town Hall (Alvar Aalto 1949-52) was under construction. Both Muuratsalo and Säynätsalo now form part of the City of Jyväskylä.
The rocky site measures 53650 m2, the boulders and stones are covered with moss, bilberry and lingonberry bushes. The vegetation is even more flourishing in a cleft between the rocks. The trees are typical for Finnish mixed forest, with birch and pine trees predominating. In the 1950s, there was no bridge to the island.
Within the grounds of the Experimental House are the house itself, a woodshed, smoke sauna and a boat-house for the launch Nemo propheta in patria. The summer home, usually known as the Experimental House, consists of the main building (1952) and a questroom-wing (1953). The L-shaped main building and walls enclose an internal courtyard which opens towards the south and west, across Lake Päijänne and the main approach route. In the internal courtyard, the facade treatment of the house changes from white-painted plastered walls to red brick.
The heart of the patio is formed by an open fireplace in the centre of the courtyard. The walls have been divided into about 50 panels which have been finished with various different kinds of bricks and ceramic tiles. The surface of the internal courtyard has also been finished with different brick patterns, in contrast to the rest of the site, which has been left in its natural state. The quest wing, the woodshed and the rock face form a screen to the informal garden area to the east of the building.
The main building contains the living areas with their main windows looking onto the internal courtyard. The balustrade of the gallery studio looks down onto the living-room, which is dominated by a large fireplace. The bedrooms in the other wing open off a closed corridor – Elissa and Alvar Aalto’s bedroom has a window with a wooden shutter opening onto the courtyard. The kitchen and the bathroom are in the angle of the L.
The space between functions as a hall and leads to the quest wing. There are two exits from this space, one on the east side to the garden and the other to the northern part of the grounds where there is a path leading through an venue of apple trees towards the shore and the sauna. The slope beside the building is terraced in the same way as at Säynätsalo Town Hall.
In Arkkitehti (the Finnish Architectural Review), number 9-10/53, Aalto describes the building as a combination of a projected architect’s studio and an experimental centre for carrying out experiments …that are not yet sufficiently well developed to be tried out in practice and where the proximity of nature may offer inspiration for both form and stucture. Aalto’s aim was to create a kind of laboratory which would at the same time be combined with a playful approach.
The main experimental areas Aalto mentioned were
1. experimenting with building without foundations
2. experimenting with free-form brick construction
3. experimenting with free-form column structures
4. experimenting with solar heating
Aalto experimented continuously in the buildings at the Experimental House, with a variety of different forms and dimensions. The location of the buildings is unrestricted and playful. On the walls of the internal courtyard, he tested different ceramic materials, different types of brick pointing, different brick sizes and the effect of different surfaces. On the surface of the courtyard, the different sectors were tested with a variety of different finishing techniques, from brick and stone to the aesthetic effect and durability of decorative plants and mosses.
‘Free-form brick construction’ and ‘solar heating’ experiments were not carried out but ‘building without foundations’ was implemented in the sub-structure of the floor of the quest wing. ‘Free-form column structure’ experiments were carried out in the woodshed in such a way that the load-bearing wooden columns are placed in the most avantageous points in the terrain.
The Experimental House functioned as a summer home for the Aalto family until 1994. The furniture in the house is Artek and designed by Alvar Aalto. Alvar Aalto museum takes care of building and is organizing guided tours.