1957 - Alvar Aalto (1898-1976)

Saynatsalo Town Hall

Designer: Aalto, Alvar (1898-1976)
Copyright: RIBA British Architectural Library Photographs Collection (1950s)

The Finnish architect, Alvar Aalto, was the successful recipient of the Royal Gold Medal in 1957.


Prior to studying at Helsinki Polytechnic, as a child he often doodled on his surveyor father's desk.


He built his first house at Alajärvi before going on to design three significant buildings before he was 30 (the Turun Sanomat newspaper offices (1928), the Viipuri library (1927-35) and the Paimio sanatorium (1929-33), the latter for which he also designed the furniture).


Aalto continued working in Finland, building himself a house at Munkkiniemi (1936) and his work began to be seen by others with the construction of the Finnish Pavilion at the Paris Exhibition of 1937. Aalto visited the United States in 1939 as he was involved with the Finnish Section of the World’s Fair at New York. The success of this temporary structure led to an exhibition of all his work to date at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.


Otaniemi Technical University detail of the door handles for the auditorium building

Designer: Aalto, Alvar (1898-1976)
Copyright: Danielle Tinero/RIBA British Architectural Library Photographs Collection (1987)

During World War II, Aalto switched his attention from individual houses to town planning, stretching his work beyond his native Finland to Avesta in Sweden, Rovaniemi in Lapland and Cambridge, Massachusetts.


The Town Hall at Säynätsalo (1949-52) marks a turning point in Aalto’s architecture, when his work begins a new phase. Aalto won the job through an invited competition in 1949, and selected brick as his medium. Still displaying the discipline of his previous work, the building is constructed around a central courtyard, and is considered one of the key works of his career.


Aalto was influenced by aspects of the National Romanticist school and elements of Scandinavian Neo-Classicism. Originally influenced by his European travels to see the classical architecture of Italy and the effects of light, his ideas eventually changed, perhaps even to embrace Russian Constructivism.


Awarded the Royal Gold Medal for 'outstanding ability to bring a human quality and gentleness to modern architectural technology'.