Alvar Aallon Lapin tuotanto
Rovaniemen taidemuseon näyttely 3.7.-27.9.1998

The time span of Alvar Aalto's (1898-1976) work in Lapland covers some 50 years. Reno-vation of Kemijärvi church was the first assignment for a young architect, then approaching his formative years. Lappia hall in Rovaniemi was then the last, the completion of which a 78- year old Aalto still lived to see. Rovaniemi town hall was planned and completed after this in 1988.

In the blocks of flats and row houses of Korkalorinne, a garden suburb of the Arctic Circle in Rovaniemi, Aalto was developing dwellings adapted to the northern conditions. The redbrick buildings, which were erected for the Aho family of tradesmen, were designed as a part of the compact urban milieu. The most northern designs of Aalto, Carelian spirited timber buildings in Sirkka village in Kittilä, were produced during the war.

Aalto made up also some regionally limited town plans and master plans and an extensive regional plan for Lapland, which, up until now, have remained lesser known. The reindeer Antler Plan is the only, though partially, realized town plan. Its base is the strong commit-ment to nature.

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In his works Aalto tried to solve problems that northern climate and polar light pose to ar-chitecture. In reindeer antler plan of Rovaniemi Aalto emphasised the natural conditions - the wide river and hilly landscape - and their meaning in regional planning. He did not wish to compete with nature designing high buildings.

Alvar Aalto is known of his abstract architecture. Why did he then hide an image of rein-deer in Rovaniemi town plan or brought mountain scenery in the middle of the town with Lappia hall's roof lines?

Probably the most influential of the nordic natural phenomena for Aalto are the polar lights - Aurora Borealis. Their forms may contain one of the sources of Aalto's organic, ever revolving line. In the New York world fair people saw for the first time a gigantic wall of po-lar lights that could not have been born without strong personal experience. That can only be experienced in Lapland.

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During the renovation of the Kemijärvi church (1832) completely new parish hall was built between the chancel and the north cross arm. The nave was accentuated by the tongue and groove boarding and the altar recess and chancel as well as organ loft were rear-ranged. Various shades of grey were the primary colours in the church. The solemnity of the church was brought about with sparse details, the effect of which was accentuated by neutral background. Lighting fixtures and textiles acquired for the renewed interior made up most of the decorations.

Aalto wanted to create the church exceptionally light to counterbalance the polar night. Lighting was arranged both with candles and electric lights by Danish designer Poul Hen-ningsen. The old chandelier was saved and new chandeliers, wall lights and altar candle-holders were designed in Aalto's office to add to the assembly.

The Kemijärvi church that reflected Aalto's transitional period was destroyed during the Lappish war in 1944.

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SCIVIL GUARD BUILDING, Kemi rural municipality
Plan 1932-33

The building drawn by Aalto was most likely made for the civil guard of Kemi. Fairly mod-est building is architectonically interesting, since it contains motifs he was to use in his later works.

The assembly hall and the stage are adjoining the rectangular-shaped office and restau-rant floor perpendicularly. The form of the assembly hall is different from the rest of the building: successive spaces are narrowing towards the back panel of the stage and it has a three folded front wall. The roof is slanting towards the stage end.

The plan was never carried forward.

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BUILDINGS FOR ATRI LTD., Sirkka in Kittilä

Atri Ltd. purchased a piece of land in the village of Sirkka in Kittilä where it had taken an interest in prospecting. An office building, a club house, sauna and a laundry house as well as two houses for the engineers, two houses for the supervisors, two barracks and a ga-rage was built in the area according to Aalto's plans. Managers accommodation was car-ried out by the bank of lake Immeljärvi.

The houses for the engineers and supervisors as well as the garage and the shed have survived to our days. The timbered sauna has been removed to Levi's downhill skiing centre.

Aalto's northernmost buildings, as far as we know, were born in Sirkka. Cold climate does not show in the exterior features of all Atri's houses owing to the intended temporariness of the buildings and standardisation. The prefabricated element houses were simple accord-ing to the style of that time, whereas timbered houses reflected the spirit of Karelianism, the Finnish national romantic style.

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1944-45, ratified 1946

Aalto's point of departure for the construction plan of Rovaniemi was the position of market town as the capital of Finnish Lapland and as the traffic centre of the whole northern Finland. Different traffic area reservations are joining at the area of the market town form-ing five-armed design, reindeer antler, in the layout. the reindeer antler area comprises all the important thoroughfares and the areas reserved for railways as well. The reconstruc-tion plan of Rovaniemi is concealing a puzzle picture of a reindeer: two branches of the central park are outlined as reindeer horns, two are defining reindeer's head and one it's back. The sports ground is a reindeer's eye. The upper part of the crown antler is formed of meandering residential streets, winding like paths trodden by reindeer.

The areas reserved for urban activities were sited within the five-armed pattern of the Reindeer antler. Here were sited besides the centre also residential areas to the west and northeast of it, a residential area to the south of the centre and the industrial and ware-house area to the west of it.

The building areas were marked as separate so that the plan was aiming at creating a cube-like structure instead of those long, solid building masses. The spacious structure, divided by the branches of the park, had better fire safety than what was the case with the previous plan. The highest permitted number of storeys was four.

A guiding principle throughout the whole plan is the organising of building so that at first could be built wooden houses because there were material available for those and then, when times would be getting better, brick houses.

Reindeer antler plan was an advanced and adaptable plan, which close to nature charac-ter has become indistinct due the rapid growth of traffic and broad thoroughfares within the internal structure of Rovaniemi.

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REGIONAL PLAN FOR LAPLAND, The valleys of Kemijoki and Ounasjoki

Aalto was a pioneer of the regional planning in Finland and his work in Lapland concen-trated in the valleys of Kemijoki and Ounasjoki. The aim was to expand the planning area to comprise whole Lapland. This was though never succeeded.

Lapland's regional plan project resulted in a group of guiding master plans designed in Aalto's office for the areas of some municipalities, an experimental village plan and a con-struction plan and standard houses for Pirttikoski. The master plans for the built-up areas of Jaatila and Muurola in Rovaniemi rural municipality and for the parish villages of Kemi-järvi, Kittilä and Pelkosenniemi were completed in summer 1955. The master plan for Ro-vaniemi market town was finished two years later.

The work of regional planning implied also the studying of various forms of living in Lap-land. Aalto thought that scattered settlement was to be avoided in Lapland by building up reasonably inexpensive clusters of settlements which could be provided with the same services and housing facilities as the built-up areas. This "experimental village" was not realized though the decision in principle for building the model community was made. The drawings of the village were never found.

takaisin Aalto - sivuille

around. 1945

In Tornio, Aalto wanted to preserve the fine form of town as well as the old church and the birch forest that located next to it. Behind the church ground he suggested to be located a sports field. This would have formed a central park that had created a connection to the river Tornionjoki.

Single-family houses and sites were to be placed near the centre. In one of Aalto's sketches the sites are hexagonal as in Reindeer antler plan of Rovaniemi, that he de-signed during that time.

The plan was never finished.

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The objective of the plan in Pirttikoski was to arrange the environment around the long-time construction site of a power plant so that it could, after the power plant was com-pleted, serve the people who will be staying in the area. In the plan the municipal office and shops were placed in the highest point of the area near the traffic routes. Two long house masses, a kindergarten and a primary school as well as chapel were drawn be-neath them. The ribbons of sites for single family houses were placed parallel with the slope.

Rovaniemi rural municipality purchased land at Pirttikoski area for public buildings and dwellings. Aalto's office had drawn inexpensive standard houses to the area, which were intended to be built also during the construction period of other power plants.

Accordingly, the design of Aalto's office for single family house area with narrow sites was not any success in the area where people had used to spacious living environment and the plan was eventually dropped.

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Tapiola market town inspired the production of residential area of Korkalorinne. Between 1958 and 1961 two four storey buildings - Rakovalkea, Poroelo - and three row houses - Korkalo, Lapinjänkä, Karpalo - as well as shopping centre and heating plant was built in the area. The Korkalorinne is situated in the area, which in the Reindeer Antler plan was defined as an area for hexagonal small-house sites.

In the planning of the area, there was aimed that all the proper family dwellings were placed in row houses or in single-family houses. The blocks of flats which were intended for single-dwelling units are sited in the terrain so that they protect the garden-like yard area from the northern cold. The diagonal direction of the blocks of houses was expressly explained by the specific nature of Lapland's lighting condition. The dwellings are facing south as much as possible so that during the darkest periods of the year the dwellings would get the maximum of sun light.

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Koskikatu 18 1958-59
Koskikatu 20 1960-62
Jaakonkatu 3 1962-63

The three red-brick apartment and business houses of the Aho family of tradesmen are all located in the same quarter. The two buildings at the Koskikatu build up an integrated complex. The ground floors of the buildings had shop premises, the three upper storeys originally apartments. Nowadays most of them work as offices.

In the exteriors of the buildings red brick is used cleverly: the unheated attic floor are marked by using gable slats, window louvers are made of drainage pipes. The plinths are made of black granite.

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AURORA BOREALIS, wall relief Koskikatu 20 Rovaniemi

  Aalto designed to the solid wall surface of the house in Koskikatu 20a a bronze sculpture, Aurora Borealis. The motifs of the two part piece are northern lights and jumping salmon. Aurora borealis is the only outdoor sculpture, based directly on Aalto's sketch, that is closely linked up with the building he has designed.

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MAISON AHO, Rovaniemi

Aarne Aho's private house is designed for a family with a private collection of art. Maison Aho is situated in a spacious garden like milieu and has, like many other private houses of Aalto, closed and concealed exterior. Interior on the other hand is both cosy and festive.

In the ground floor the large living room is narrowing towards the dining room. A partition wall separates from the entrance hall adjoining a living room, a canted corridor that that leads to more private rooms and to the staircase downstairs. A slightly curved wall, em-phasised by an undirect light from above, offers peaceful background for the works of art.

The floor-plan of the house is slightly fan shaped. Lounge is situated in the most spacious point of the fan form and opens up towards the garden through a bay window in the west corner.

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In the background of Aalto's most famous work in Lapland, the administrative and cultural centres of Rovaniemi, are the entities that in antiquity were built in towns where the market place was encircled by pillared halls, temples, and assembly halls including also a theatre in an appropriate surroundings - all places manifesting the sense of community inherent in urban culture. All three buildings of the centre rise individually from the square. The library building's emphasis is in lending hall's large skylight windows. Lappia hall's undulating lines of the roofs and Town Hall's high council chamber tower give their own individual adds to the complex.


The library building consists of a lengthwise-emphasised one-storey mass and a slightly higher fan-shaped part. Elevation facing the north borders the central square of the admin-istrative and cultural centre. To the south, the building appears as a peaceful and low mass, the straight lined elevation is animated by a couple of recesses.

The interiors are following the idea that Aalto has developed ever since the design of the Viipuri library, where reading rooms are placed lower than the rest of the library hall. The whole lending hall is spread out like an open fan enabling the librarians to have a clear visibility over the whole area.

Kirjastosalin sisäpuolella kattorakenteista on tehty arkkitehtoninen aihe: rakenteiden raskaus on käännetty eduksi muodostamalla suurimmalle osalle lainaussalia madallettu, mittakaavaa säätelevä katto. Tämä madaltuu edelleen valvontapisteen kohdalla, jota kiertää tasomainen alaslaskettu katto. Sen yläpuolella toistuu ikkunaseinien kaareva kattomuoto. Lainaussalin katto- ja yläikkunoiden sekä eri tasoilla olevien kattopintojen avulla avaraan viuhkaan syntyy valoisuusasteeltaan erilaisten ointojen tilaa elävöittävä vaikutus. Voimakkaimman luonnonvalon saavat kirjahyllyt. Yläikkunoista tulevan valon heijastaminen sisätilaan kaareutuvan katon avulla on ollut Aallolle tyypillistä etenkin kirjasto- ja museorakennuksissa.

The lending hall gets indirect natural light from the high lantern like windows that are crowning the library fan. The northern light is reflected from the windows through the pro-nouncedly curving ceiling to the walls filled with bookshelves. After dark they glow the cul-tural light softly in the polar night.

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LAPPIA HALL, Rovaniemi
1961, 1968-72, 1973-75

The Rovaniemi theatre, concert and congress hall was realised in two stages of which the first part comprising music school and radio station as well as the youth premises. The second stage, that is the main part of the building, included theatre and concert hall as well as congress hall.

The diverse possibilities of Lappia hall are outlining the outward features of the building. The gently undulating lines of the roofs have been frequently compared with the mountain scenery of Lapland.

The colours of Lappia Hall are typical for Aalto; Light whites and blues dominate the build-ing both outside and in furnishing. Parts of the walls in the entrance hall are clad with shin-ing, dark blue tubular ceramic tiles. The height variations in the upper bottom of the foyer are regulated by white painted metal plates and lattice works which are placed at different heights on the wall. Material choices and Artek lamps and furniture emphasise the unity of the building. The floor material of the entrance hall and the staircase leading to the foyer is limestone from Loue - Lappish marble.

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TOWN HALL, Rovaniemi
1961, 1984-88

The completion of town hall in 1988 added the finishing touch to the administrative and cultural centre. The complex consists of several divergent wings and hierachically the most important premises are concentrated on the part facing the Hallituskatu street. The town council chamber and the conference room of the executive board are in the first floor where town manager and the chairman of the executive board also have their rooms. The building complex is dominated by the mass of the council chamber, the shape of which is outlined crystal like owing to the folded wall surfaces.

Slanting roof faces the civic square. The furnishings of the hall are characterized by opu-lent use of wood: parquet floor is made of oak and the wall and ceiling panelling is of ash. The entrance wall of the hall is a distant echo of Aalto's famous theme of northern lights - a design of vertical laths at varying intervals.

The interior architecture of the building is spacious and light. Light coloured surfaces are enlivened by wooden details. In the ground floor lobby is repeatedly used, as in Lappia hall, limestone from Loue. Furnishings by Artek and in Aalto's office designed lamps are also dominating the town hall interiors.

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The main sources for the text are a research publication by an architect Päivi Lukkarinen, Aalto Lapissa - Alvar Aallon Lapin tuotanto, Publications of Rovaniemi Art Museum, Atena-Kustannus Oy, Gummerus 1998 and litterature by Göran Schildt.

Leena Lohiniva
Rovaniemi Art Museum