Aino Aalto - 7 Architects in Practice

Aino Marsio Aalto was a Finnish architect and designer, a founding member of Artek, the visionary furniture and interiors firm, and partner in the practice of her celebrated husband Alvar Aalto. Her role in both Artek and the Aalto Studio was pivotal, and her recognition as the partner and equal of Alvar is long overdue.


Aino was known to have a strong interest in design’s social agenda, in childhood pedagogy and also in botany and landscape architecture. Her drawings often show a soft edge between building and landscape, and her designs worked to bring the garden to the interior through a careful detailing of thresholds.


Villa Mairea in Noormarkku is a great example of this attention at the edges of the Aalto’s architecture. It was built in 1939 for the Aalto’s friends and Artek co-founders Harry and Maire Gullichsen, and is still owned by their family today. The house is beautiful. It was an opportunity for both the Aaltos to experiment in different ways with their ideas and designs, and to explore their shared interest in the relationship between landscape and architecture.


All the elements of the interior work together, not to frame the landscape but incorporate it such that it is part of the architecture. A broad palette of materials gives the interior tactility and texture. Large sliding windows around the living space and garden room help to blur the boundary between forest and home. Aino worked closely with the client, Maire Gullichsen on the interior design, designing furniture in natural materials and planters that sit within the window frames, allowing vines to creep up and drape across the view. On the outside of the house timber bars for training plants run below the windows and across the white walls, and the cladding is faceted to encourage the grip of climbers. There are fantastic details at every threshold, and multiple devices to reinforce this connection with the garden.


The story of the Aalto's collaboration is rarely told, and focus falls solely on Alvar's achievements. Both the Aaltos should be regarded as leading and equally committed proponents of Modernism, and reconsidering Aino’s role in the Aalto studio clarifies their partnership, giving weight to their individual achievements.


Although it’s been almost eighty years since the completion of Villa Mairea, Aino’s approach to its design feels very contemporary. The idea that architecture can’t be dissociated from landscape is integral to the approach we take at 6a architects. We also hope to design spaces which both frame nature and introduce landscape into the home.


With thanks to Tony Fretton for the kind use of his photographs.


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