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An exhibition about the life’s work of architect Elissa Aalto will open at Galleria Nuovo, Lahti, in August (23.8–1.10.2023). It launches Architecture Week run by the City of Lahti. The Week celebrates 150 years since the birth of Eliel Saarinen, 125 since Alvar Aalto’s birth, and Elissa Aalto’s centenary (in 2022). Everyone is welcome to the opening at 18.00 on Tuesday 22.8.2023.

Architect Elissa Aalto exhibition shows the life’s work of this talented, tenacious designer, who is still relatively unknown to the general public. It sheds light on her public and private role in the everyday life of Alvar Aalto’s architect’s office and alongside her famous architect husband. The touring exhibition honouring Elissa Aalto’s centenary has previously been shown in four Alvar Aalto cities: Rovaniemi, Alajärvi, Tammisaari and Oulu.

Elissa Aalto (née Elsa Kaisa Mäkiniemi, 1922–1994) graduated as an architect in 1949 and already began working in Alvar Aalto’s architect’s office in that same year. She was put in charge of several of its major construction projects from the 1950s onwards. Alvar Aalto took a liking to his bright, vivacious colleague, and they married in 1952. Elissa Aalto was made a partner in Alvar Aalto Architects at the end of 1958, and was closely involved in the planning of large-scale construction projects in Finland and abroad in the 1960s and 70s. Over the years, she developed into a skilled interpreter and mediator of Aalto’s ideas, a role that was accentuated when maintaining contacts during construction projects. Her own, independent designs include several private houses and printed-fabric patterns made for Artek in the 1950s.

Elissa Aalto ran the office from 1976 to 1994, following Alvar Aalto’s death, resolutely bringing several unfinished construction projects to completion. She worked alongside Aalto and then carried on his work for 45 years in all. She took charge of finishing Lahti’s Church of the Cross (1969–79), which had long been on the drawing board. It was with Elissa Aalto’s backing that the architectural firm’s drawing, photograph and document collections were transferred to the ownership of the Alvar Aalto Foundation, thus keeping it all in one place – making it one of the world’s rare drawing collections to be preserved intact.

In 2022, the Alvar Aalto Foundation published the first book about Elissa Aalto, along with an Elissa Aalto product range, all on sale online in the Alvar Aalto Shop.

This year marks the 125th anniversary of the birth of Alvar Aalto (1898−1976). The pioneers of modern design, architects Alvar, Aino and Elissa Aalto, had exceptionally rich and varied careers in Finland and abroad. In this anniversary year, the Alvar Aalto Foundation – along with its partners in collaboration – is putting the spotlight on the story of Alvar Aalto’s architect’s office (1923−1994) and on the ideas behind its work, ideas that are still relevant today. The exhibition, produced by the Alvar Aalto Foundation, is part of the Alvar Aalto 125 anniversary year programme.

Touring exhibition: Architect Elissa Aalto
23.8–1.10.2023 Galleria Nuovo
Open Wed–Fri 14–17 and Sat 12–15 and Sun 14–17
Address: Mariankatu 16, 15110 Lahti


Further information:
City Planning Architect Tuomas Helin
City of Lahti
+358 (0)44 483 6337

Exhibition content and media enquiries:
Collaboration Manager Mari Forsberg
Alvar Aalto Foundation
+358 (0)50 325 1909

Church of the Cross, Lahti. Photo Maija Holma, Alvar Aalto Foundation.