Finland, 1936–1956
Alvar Aalto

Karhula-Iittala, Iittala, Finland
Mold-blown glass

Alvar Aalto was born in 1898 in Kuortane, Finland, and studied architecture at the Helsinki University of Technology from 1916 to 1921. He opened his own architectural practice in 1923. His first major project, the design of the Viipuri Library, provided Aalto with the ideas that coalesced in his design of the Paimio Sanatorium, a tuberculosis sanatorium named for the town in Finland in which it is located. From 1929 to 1933, Aalto designed the facility and its furnishings, exemplifying the modernist ideals of an all-encompassing design program.

Aalto’s stamp on modernism is characterized by the use of natural materials, minimal functional organic forms, as well as by exploring the humanistic side of design. Throughout his career, Aalto was an influential figure in twentieth-century architecture, town planning, and in furniture, lighting, and glass design. Besides the Viipuri and Paimio buildings, his numerous architectural projects included the 1929 exhibition commemorating the 700th anniversary of the Finnish city of Turku, the Finnish pavilions at the 1937 Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne in Paris, and the 1939 New York World’s Fair, and the Opera House in Essen, Germany (designed 1959), now known as the Aalto Theatre. —Cooper Hewitt

(Photo: MoMA)