All posts tagged: Finland

travel guide: postcards from Helsinki

Travel: postcards from Helsinki

This year Finland is celebrating 100 years of independence and what perfect excuse to visit its beautiful, harbour-side capital, Helsinki. Just before Christmas last year I headed there for a work trip, I’d been once before in the summer, but this time the white skies seemed to bring out the earthy tones of the buildings and the low sunshine cast long shadows across the cobbled streets. It was certainly crisp and cold, but cosy dips into coffee shops and boutiques thawed the toes and warmed the soul. Slightly overshadowed in many ways by its Scandinavian cousins Stockholm and Copenhagen, it’s taken time for the Finnish city to find its own identity. The country was first governed by Sweden, and then by the Russians, so the city’s architecture sits somewhere in-between east and west, Europe and the Baltics – its neoclassical buildings and long boulevards bear influences from Leningrad and Moscow, while the cathedral was modelled on St Petersburg’s. In the 20th century it was Eliel Saarinen and Alvar Aalto that helped put the city on the map, from Saarinen’s art …

The making of Alvar Aalto's famous vase

Your Home Needs This: Alvar Aalto vase

My series ‘Your Home Needs This’ is all about profiling beautiful design classics and timeless pieces of furniture that I feel everyone should have in their home. And this one is the perfect example – the Alvar Aalto vase, produced by Finnish glass manufacturer Iittala. If I had to name my favourite piece of design, ever, this would be it. It’s by my favourite architect and designer, Alvar Aalto, and it’s my favourite object at home. I love its soft, sinuous form that makes it truly unique – there’s nothing quite like filling it with flowers and enjoying its sculptural shape day after day. The Aalto vase has become a true classic in Scandinavian design, found in the homes of every Finn and in museum collections across the world. Compared to the highly decorative objects being made at the time the vase was first created, the organic shape of the vase was a revolutionary statement. Inspired by waves in water (Aalto means ‘wave’ in Finnish), it’s a simple design whose tactility appeals to the senses. It’s lost none of its allure …


Alvar Aalto at Pitzhanger Manor

An exhibition on my favourite architect Alvar Aalto is currently on at Pitzhanger Manor in Ealing. (In 2011 I made a bit of a pilgrimage to Finland to see his work, such as his studio here and his house here, which you can see in previous posts if you want to find out a bit more about him). Reason & Intuition: Alvar Aalto & Ola Kolehmainen places Aalto’s creations around the historic rooms of Sir John Soane’s country villa. You think it wouldn’t work– placing Finnish modernism in an 18th century house– but I loved the interaction between old and new. In the breakfast room there is some of his glasswork, including the ‘Savoy’– so-called because Aalto and his wife Aino used it in their interior for the Savoy restaurant in Helsinki– and the Aalto flower, a set of stackable vases designed for the 1939 New York World’s Fair. In the library there is his table and chairs, while the small drawing room has two fascinating films on his home in Helsinki’s Munkkiniemi neighbourhood and his …


Saunalahti School, Finland by Verstas Architects

As readers of this blog will know, I am a sucker for anything Scandinavian, and that includes it’s architecture. Helsinki-based Verstas Architects has completed a new school in Espoo, Finland’s second largest city. Saunalahti is an entirely new neighbourhood of Espoo. The new school provides a social meeting point for the families living in the area, with classroom spaces as well as a day care centre, preschool and a youth house. The school also houses a public library and in the evenings and weekends the workshop classrooms, gymnastics spaces and school playground are used by the locals and several clubs. “The openness and the sense of community can also be seen in the architecture”, explains architect Ilkka Salminen. “The heart of the building, the multi-purpose dining hall is the space where all users meet. It opens up to the large school yard like an amphitheatre.” The building itself is formed of fair-face concrete walls and smooth, curving oak veneered ceilings- sensitive and natural materials that remind me of Alvar Aalto’s work. A large glass wall connects the school …


The Magic of Modernism: Alvar Aalto’s stool celebrates its 80th anniversary

I went on a month-long trip to Scandinavia the summer before last, mainly for a little Alvar Aalto pilgrimage to see his architecture and furniture in Finland. You can see a post I wrote on his studio in Tiilimaki, Helsinki here, as well as, a post on his house in Riihitie, Helsinki here. Now, furniture producer Artek are celebrating the 80th anniversary of Aalto’s three-legged Stool 60 by re-releasing the stool in two new colourful editions. The simple, stackable wooden stools were created when Alvar Aalto repeatedly threw the prototype of his three-legged stool to the floor at the Korhonen furniture factory to test its sturdiness. He shouted excitedly: “We’ll make thousands of these one day!”. Aalto spent several years perfecting the curved, L-shaped legs of the stool in collaboration with the technical experts form the Korhonen furniture company. Little did he know that they would become a design classic and go on to sell millions of copies. The new colourful stools released by Artek feature the hues Aalto used at the Paimio Sanatorium, a former …

Denizen Sauna by Denizen Works + Friends

Denizen Sauna by Denizen Works + Friends

How cute is this little sauna on the Finnish archipelago, Åland, between Sweden and Finland! Built and made in 9 days last summer by London architects Denizen Works + Friends, the black stained shed is designed to be towed onto the frozen lake in the winter months like a large-scale sledge. From my trip to Scandinavia last year, I can’t think of a better way than to get away from the dark months in a little black-stained timber lodge.  Images: Denizen + Friends

Aalto's House, Riihitie, Helsinki

Below are a few images of Alvar Aalto’s house in Riihitie, just outside of Helsinki, which I visited as part of a month-long trip to Scandinavia this summer. In 1936, Aalto and his wife, Aino, designed Riihitie as both office and home, until his studio became too big and moved down the road to Tiilimaki. The house has often been called the predecessor of Villa Mairea, but on a smaller scale, with more intimate office and residential spaces. Images: My own

Aalto Studio, Tiilimaki, Helsinki

While in Finland, my friend and I paid a trip to Aalto’s Studio on Tiilimaki, a short tram ride out of the city to suburban Helsinki. Aalto designed the office in 1955, down the road from his own house on Riihitie, when his previous studio became too small for his architecture company. The white rendered building, which was used as his office until his death in 1976, curves around to form a landscaped amphitheatre. This was sometimes used by his students and employees to watch slideshows and lectures. Once inside, we were shown around the main light-filled office space, that made the best use of Finland’s dark and cold winters. The main interior space however, was the curving atelier, where Aalto used to like to draw himself, on a low table. Aalto designed this room to create the perfect environment for examining drawings and models; he even created a small upper level in order to hang prototypes of light fittings. Images: my own