Play Architecture with Wood Laminate in the Auditorium

Daily Draw June 12th, 2012

I am starting my official study after the Jokers with the Spades suit. The publisher arranged the deck from Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 10, 9 etc., so I shall keep to that order. Spades are the suit with the theme of Modernism.

ACE OF SPADES
A. Aalto – Experiment with Laminated Wood
1937

Alvar Aalto reminds me of Charles Eames, in that he worked with his artist/designer wife Aino Marsio much like Eames did with his wife Ray. He was older than Eames and was definitely an influence on him. Alvar and his first wife were both architects but often focused on decorative arts and design. For me, interior design is a vital part of architecture anyway, the support furniture, lighting, and decorative objects of a home make the whole package, an idea that comes from the world of Frank Lloyd Wright and Rennie Mackintosh; a very twentieth century idea to my mind.

Aalto did a number of interesting chairs with laminated veneers and moulded plywood. He designed the first cantilevered chair to use laminated wood for instance. Cantilevered chairs have no back legs but rely on the material for support. We are so used to seeing this sort of thing in the Ikea catalogue but imagine how revolutionary the idea was in the late 1920s and early 1930s. He did a series of interesting stools as well. He and his first wife also designed vases in glass with organic shapes and they are still being manufactured today in a variety of colours.

One of his early and most famous buildings is the Paimio Sanatorium that he won the commission for in a design contest in 1929. The building was completed in 1933, and he designed a chair called Armchair 41, which is now called the Paimio armchair since it was featured in the sanatorium. He and Aino designed all the furniture and interiors of the building, including specially designed lamps, cupboards, and non-splash wash basins. It is full of light and has balconies for fresh air, always important for treating tuberculosis. It is now a hospital and Finland is attempting to have it declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

He didn’t like man-made materials like steel, although he used them initially because that was the style of the time, the machine world was the rage. It’s strange how the Arts and Craft movement became passé and people started to worship production lines and tubular steel. I suppose this is the way it is with generations. Aalto decided to forget the trend and take nature as inspiration and this evolved into using wood and experimenting with wood laminate.

Alvar Aalto and three other Finnish gentlemen started a company called Artek in 1935 which is still in business and creating new products and designs, and some of their original furniture is still in production or can be ordered by special request. These pieces are like icons of design in our world.

I also like Aalto’s design for the library in Vyborg, Russia which was completed in 1935. He designed special light fixtures, and futuristic skylights that really set the rooms off. Unfortunately the building was damaged in World War II and then left to ruin by Soviet authorities, but thankfully it wasn’t demolished and a huge restoration was undertaken after the Soviet regime fell and it is now listed as a historical site. The building was such a structural wreck that efforts to restore it are ongoing. The inside of the building is more impressive than the outside and it is particularly known for a wooden ceiling in the auditorium that looked like an undulating wave, and was built for its acoustic properties, but was destroyed. Some day it will be fully restored.

There is a book called Alvar Aalto Library in Vyborg : Saving a Modern Masterpiece that is out-of-print but can be scrounged up for a hefty price, and it describes the restoration and is published by the same firm that published these playing cards, the Rakennustieto in Finland. There are 400 images and drawings in this book, and if it was less expensive I’d love to have it.

I love this “Siena” fabric Alvar Aalto designed in 1954. It is still available in a white-on-white and a blue-on-white colourway from Artek, and just as fresh as current designs. It reminds me of a quilt layout I once wanted to use and I have seen antique blue and white quilts in a similar pattern.

You can do a search to see his other buildings and designs, I simply highlighted a few. There are a number of books on Aalto houses, buildings, and design work available and in-print. What an interesting man with so much work!

He really fits the character as the ultimate Ace, the highest ideal, the Ace of Spades.

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About JJ

Eccentric erminois dweller.
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2 Responses to Play Architecture with Wood Laminate in the Auditorium

  1. ironwing says:

    I have almost zero appreciation for architecture so I can’t comment on that (I like small, simple, practical, inconspicuous, durable, dry, light, climate-appropriate…and furnished the same way). But I have to note a couple of things:
    1. My computer sits on a tubular steel table with plastic-coated particleboard top (Ikea, 1988, $25). It comes apart for travel or storage and has survived six moves. It has weathered drastic humidity and temperature changes and attacks by naughty cats. It can be washed with bleach and does not give off toxic fumes. It’s not pretty but is so minimal that it’s hardly noticeable. If it were made of laminated wood, here in the desert it would give off vapors from formaldehyde and other chemicals for about five years until the steam-formed bends in the wood began to uncurl, the layers began to delaminate, and the whole thing began to shred and fall apart.
    2. On Armchair 41, pictured above – while obviously cheap and easy to move and clean, it was certainly NOT designed for the comfort or health of a person with lung disease. On the other hand, the Ace of Spades certainly fits with a TB diagnosis.
    Humph. 🙂

    • woley says:

      Hah. I never thought about fumes and such and TB. I guess they didn’t understand such things back then. Obviously it is not general knowledge today either. It is giving me second thoughts about laminate flooring as well.

      I have two of the Ikea tables like you describe and a couple of knock-offs of similar type. I even bought some tubular legs and a few kitchen doors in the sale isle at Ikea and turned them into tables. I am not a fancy person, I love my Ikea tables.

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