Skip to main content


Alvar Aalto: Architecture, Modernity and Geopolitics

Perhaps more than any other architect, Alvar Aalto’s life and career has been tied to his home country, Finland. As the title indicates, my lecture will elaborate to our understanding of Aalto’s “Finnishness” by placing him within the terrain of 20th century geopolitics, understood here as the combination of geographic and political factors that I believe influenced his life, architecture, ideas, and reception throughout his career, which began during the Finnish Civil War of 1918, spanned through two Finno-Russian wars that took place, respective in 1939-40 and 1941-44, and culminated at the beginning-of-an-end of the Cold War in the mid-1970s.

Considering all the turmoil, it comes as no surprise that various geographic narratives dominated his architecture, writings and reception. Yet, I will show in my talk that “Finnish” was not the only attribute Aalto used to describe his architecture. Ideas about “Nordic,” “Scandinavian,” “Baltic,” “international,” “pan-European,” “regional” and “universal” culture bear witness to richness and scale of his geographic ambitions at different times.

My talk is based on my book of the same title, published by Yale University Press in Spring 2009.

Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen