Famed Finnish architect and furniture designer Alvar Aalto was born on this day 116 years ago.
Aalto was known for marrying practicality and aesthetics in his designs during his 50-year career, and his furniture is widely regarded as the predecessor to IKEA.
Aalto was one of the earliest Nordic Modernists and Functionalists. He first gained international fame for the design of the Paimio Sanatorium—a hospital designated for the treatment of tuberculosis before antibiotics were used to treat the disease. He weaved the principles of functionalism into the design and made the hospital user-friendly to patients. He painted the walls dark green to avoid the glare of the lights, which he kept out of the prone patient’s line of sight. He added balconies that staffers could roll patients out onto from their beds. He and his wife, Aino, also an architect, designed everything for the building, down to the furniture.
This led to the 1935 establishment of Artek, his furniture company, which combined quality craftsmanship with mass production, transforming the way furniture was made in the 1930s and paving the way for Swedish furniture giant IKEA. Aalto’s Stool 60, a three-legged birch stackable stool that turned heads at the time, is used for customers in Apple stores across the world. In 1936, he won a glassware design competition, leading to the birth of the Savoy Vase and his line of glassware.
From the 1950s onward, he largely designed public buildings, including the Säynätsalo Town Hall, University of Jyväskylä and the House of Culture in Helsinki.
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