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Finnish Pavilion in Venice Biennale (Alvar Aalto 1956). Photo: Ross Hamilton 2011.

The first meeting about the restoration to be done at the Finnish pavilion – which was damaged by a fallen tree on October 7th, 2011 – took place in Venice at the end of November 2011. The first step was the evaluation of possible renovation costs. Then, together with the survey, a profound study of the historical background and the original project was undertaken. The following design phase was time-consuming, mainly due to the complexity of the roofing system. A more bureaucratic phase started in late spring to get all the authorizations needed. In May the call for tender took place and in mid-June the work started. The renovation ended on Sunday morning, August 26th, just in time for the opening of the 13th Architecture Exhibition.

The little wooden building covers an area of about 110 m2, with the inside ground occupying just 83 m2. However, its complexity is not measurable based on its small size: it has a lot to do with the experimental character of the building and with its long history.

Finnish Pavilion in Venice Biennale (Alvar Aalto 1956). Photo: (c) Alvar Aalto Museum.

The temporary pavilion, promoted by Maire Gullichsen in 1955, was designed by Alvar Aalto beginning at the end of that year. As Aalto explained, it was conceived as a mix of three buildings: the Pazzi Chapel in Florence, a Lapp tipi and the portable field altar of the Good Soldier Švejk, a Czech literary figure. The little structure was supposed to be mounted and dismounted every second year.

The materials, donated by Finnish companies, arrived in Venice in late May 1956. The construction was carried out in a short time at the presence of Alvar and Elissa Aalto and was finished on Wednesday morning, June 13th, 1956, just in time for the Opening of the 26th Art Exhibition.

Finnish Pavilion in Venice Biennale (Alvar Aalto 1956). (c) Drawings collection / Alvar Aalto Museum

Alvar Aalto took the occasion of working on this little wooden prefabricated building as a rather experimental project. He used the “fan” system he was developing in those years (e.g. the competition project for the Lahti church or the design of the Church of the Three Crosses at Imatra) for the plan. To bring light onto the exhibition walls, Aalto employed a complex roofing/skylight system, a precursor of the one he used for the Aalborg Museum in Denmark.

Finally, he added large white letters composing the word “Finlandia”, suspended on cables, to the main façade. This anticipated by more than a decade many discourses about the importance of symbolism in architecture.

Finnish Pavilion in Venice Biennale (Alvar Aalto 1956). Restoration architect Gianni Talamini. Photo: Tuula Pöyhiä / Alvar Aalto Museum 2012.

Working on such an important construction has been a great honour, but at the same time a huge responsibility. The continued support from Juha Niemelä of Senate Properties, his astounding availability and his flexibility have been precious resources and fundamental factors throughout the project. The supervision by Tuula Pöyhiä of the Alvar Aalto Foundation has also been crucial: her careful attention to every detail during the design phase, as well as her capacity to transmit her rare expertise to the workers during her visit to the site, have been the drivers for a scrupulous renovation.

Finnish Pavilion in Venice Biennale (Alvar Aalto 1956) after the restoration. Photo: (c) Ugo Carmeni 2012.

This has probably been the most extensive and careful restoration of the pavilion ever: first of all in terms of historical research, secondly due to the fact that the structure was been almost completely dissembled and re-assembled, and thirdly because the building was cleaned of the numerous layers of alien materials that had been added to it during the course of its life. Doing that, as in an archaeological survey, made it possible to read many chapters of the pavilion history that have never been written on paper. These day-by-day discoveries have been a very exciting reward for the great effort of getting the renovation done properly and on time.

In nine months, just in time for the 13th Architecture Exhibition, the pavilion was finally unveiled again.

Architect Gianni Talamini

Finnish pavilion at the Venice Biennale

Design: 1955-56

Building year: 1956

Size: 315 m3

Purpose: temporary pavilion for art exhibitions

Main renovations:

–        1976 led by Fredrick Fogh

–        1993 led by Panu Kaila

Present renovation:

Owner and promoter: Senate Properties

Design and director of works: architect Gianni Talamini

Static calculations: engineer Enrico Bortolato

Building company: Bio-House S.r.l.

Renovation period: June 18-August 26, 2012


Main institutions involved:


–        Senate Properties

–        Alvar Aalto Foundation

–        Museum of Finnish Architecture


–        City of Venice

–        Soprintendenza per i Beni Architettonici e Paesaggistici

–        La Biennale di Venezia