To the Barbican, to the Alvar Aalto exhibition curated by Japanese paper loving architect Shigeru Ban. It was well worth it. Aalto is not as celebrated a modernist as Le Corbusier or Mies, but in many ways he was the more accomplished architect (perhaps in all ways). He was first of all a deeply humanist architect, believing that the role of architecture is to create better conditions for living, if not to try to create paradise - rather than architecture-as-machine or architecture as celebration of the empty box. His private residential commissions were always an opportunity to experiment, in the hope of applying new ideas on a larger social scale. His main themes are the creation of internal spaces that produce a sense of flow and encounter. For him, the inner courtyard is a way of bringing the outside in - a transitional space that reflects the dual psychological need for we humans to feel safe at the same time as in the midst of things. He was a master of light, using skylights to fabulously soothing effect on many projects. In stark contrast to Corb, he was also an architect of curvilinear flow in the context of the contours of landscape, creating what I like to think of as a lyrical modernism. He was also an obsessive with details, which you can see in the many examples of door handles, light fittings and furniture that he designed that are on display. His work is at the origin of an alternative modernist tradition, that reaches all the way to the present with the likes of the increasingly celebrated American architect Steven Holl. In both cases, a humanist preoccupation with resolving the conflict between man and nature lends itself to a strongly functional yet poetic moulding of space: a phenomenological classicism of sorts. Alvar Aalto: yet one more reason to visit Helsinki.
‘Temple Run’ or stay?
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