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Aino & Alvar Aalto – Shared Visions. Small is beautiful – ideal homes for everyone, an exhibition of Aino and Alvar Aalto’s life’s work in architecture and design, is to open in Tokyo, Gallery A4. It launches a three-part series of exhibitions highlighting the key themes of the Aaltos’ design work, collaboratively arranged by the Alvar Aalto Museum and Japan’s Takenaka Corporation.

Aino (1894–1949) and Alvar Aalto (1898–1976) both envisaged architecture as an integrated whole, and in the 1920s and 30s a particular focus was on studies of ways of living and related solutions. Small is beautiful – ideal homes for everyone shows two residential projects: the interiors for the 1930 exhibition The Rationalization of the Small Dwelling, designed by the Aaltos, and also their own home in Helsinki, which was completed in 1936. “Both sites exemplify several of the Aaltos’ ideas about home design, the requirements of a good everyday life, and a flexible, modern approach to furnishing. Despite being designed in Finland in the 1930s, they still have something to say to us and are also of interest in today’s Japan,” says Alvar Aalto Museum Curator Timo Riekko, who has worked closely on the design of the exhibition.

In The Rationalization of the Small Dwelling shown at Helsinki Exhibition Hall in 1930 Aino and Alvar Aalto created a model home furnished with moveable, serially produced furniture. The design of the kitchen paid particular attention to the ergonomics and hygiene of the workspaces. In the Aaltos’ design work the practical, well-lit spatial layout of the small dwellings went hand in hand with the bigger issue of architecture as a vehicle for social change. Modern residential design was seen as enabling better everyday lives, and efficient kitchen design in particular was believed capable of making women’s ordinary lives easier, and of promoting equality at a time when women were increasingly taking up work outside the home.

The Aalto House (1935–36) in Munkkiniemi in Helsinki united the architect family’s home and work. The architect couple planned their own home to meet the family’s functional needs, integrating into it their previous experience of residential design. The living areas seamlessly overlapped with the architect’s office spaces, the two functions being demarcated by unobtrusive features, such as steps and sliding dividing walls. The building’s private and public side could also be seen in the surrounding garden, which was an important part of the whole. Seeing the Aalto House also provides insights into Aino and Alvar Aalto’s more private side and their personal history.

The exhibition’s homely interiors showcase furniture, lights, glass objects and printed textiles from the Alvar Aalto Museum’s design collections, plus original architecture drawings from the Museum’s drawing archive. The exhibition further offers an opportunity to virtually explore the Aalto House in a VR model produced at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). Aino and Alvar Aalto’s descendants have also loaned previously unseen works for the exhibition.

The second small themed exhibition in the series will open at the Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum, Kobe, in spring 2020. This will focus on the history of Aino and Alvar Aalto’s furniture design and manufacture, and on the development of the Artek furniture company founded in 1935. The third and final exhibition in the series will open at the Setagaya Art Museum in Tokyo in February 2021, combining the contents of the two previous shows into an extensive touring exhibition. This will then go on to the Hyogo Prefectural Art Museum in Kobe.

Further information:
Alvar Aalto Museum
Curator Timo Riekko

Aino & Alvar Aalto – Shared Visions. Small is beautiful – ideal homes for everyone
Gallery A4, Tokyo, Japan

Main photo: Aino and Alvar Aalto in their architect office.

“The Rationalization of the Small Dwelling” exhibition at Helsinki Exhibition Hall in 1930
The Aalto House (1935–36) in Munkkiniemi in Helsinki. Photos Maija Holma.
Aino and Alvar Aalto´s family at the Aalto House.

Photos Alvar Aalto Foundation.