Alvar Aalto through the eyes of Shigeru Ban

February 22, 2007

Barbican Art Gallery, London

"The ultimate goal of the architect…is to create a paradise. Every house, every product of architecture…should be a fruit of our endeavour to build an earthly paradise for people."
(Alvar Aalto, 1957)

Finnish architect – and founder of Artek – Alvar Aalto (1898-1976) is universally acknowledged as a landmark figure of 20th century architecture and design; ranking alongside other Modernist masters such as Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe.

Filling the whole of Barbican Art Gallery, this is the first major retrospective of work by Alvar Aalto to be held in the UK. The exhibition is designed and curated by leading Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, renowned for his original use of materials such as paper tubes to create remarkable structures. The exhibition explores the themes linking these two influential architects and demonstrates how they share an organic approach to design as well as an aspiration for a humanitarian goal in architecture.

The exhibition examines the development of Alvar Aalto’s architectural ideas and style, featuring models, drawings, photographs and artefacts from 14 of his key projects, built mainly in Finland, Denmark, Russia and the USA. Spanning six decades, featured projects include Paimio Tuberculosis Sanatorium (1929-33), Villa Mairea (1938-39), AA-System Houses (began 1937), Experimental House (1952-53), North Jutland Art Museum (1958, 1966-72) and the development of the urban centre for Seinäjoki (1952-87).

Shown alongside Aalto’s original models are newly commissioned analytical models of Aalto’s buildings produced by Shigeru Ban Laboratory, Keio University, Tokyo. Also displayed are recent photographs of Aalto’s buildings taken by American photographer Judith Turner which shed new light on his work.

Aalto was as concerned with the interiors of his buildings as he was with the structure. The exhibition also showcases his wide-ranging product designs including his famous stacking stool and other furniture pieces, as well as glassware, light fittings and textiles. Many of these items continue to be manufactured today by Artek.

Aalto admired the dedication to individual craftsmanship and sensitivity to natural materials that he found in Japanese architecture from the 1930s. 60 years on, this influence comes full circle in the work of Shigeru Ban who acknowledges a huge debt to Aalto’s organic approach to design, sharing his ambition to harmonise buildings with their environment.

Proventus' engagement in Artek