Centre for Architecture Theory Criticism History
School of Architecture

Aalto's relationship with Italy

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

ATCH Lunch

Silva Micheli

Aalto's Relationship with Italy.

Aalto’s first trip to Italy took place in 1924 and he would keep returning periodically during his career. While the architect's visits to Venice, Florence, Rome and the small towns of central and southern Italy are well recognized, less is known about Aalto's presence in Milan, where, from 1933 onward, his work was regularly presented at La Triennale. Italian architecture, with its civic value and urban disposition, undoubtedly influenced Alvar Aalto's design thinking: the Säynätsalo Town Hall (1949-52), the Helsinki University of Technology (1949-76) and The Wolfsburg Cultural Centre (1958-62), among others, are buildings conceived as urban complexes, in harmony with surrounding nature and possessing a strong civic role.

Aalto also had several opportunities to work in Italy. In 1955-56 he completed the Finnish pavilion at the Venice Biennale, a structure that was meant as temporary but was restored to permanence in 1976. After the 1965-66 exhibition at Palazzo Strozzi, in Florence, dedicated to his work, Aalto received significant assignments. The project for a Cultural Centre in Siena (1966) as well as the project for a residential complex in Pavia (1966/68), were never realized. After all these and other missed opportunities, the project for the Riola Parish church near Bologna (1966-68) was eventually completed in 1980 thanks to the support of Cardinal Lercaro.

Widely published in the Italian architectural journals Domus, Casabella, Metron and Zodiac, Aalto received the Laurea Honoris Causa at the Polytechnic of Milan in 1964, a demonstration of the esteem that the Italian architectural community had for the Finnish Master.

This presentation aims to show the continuous exchange that took place between Alvar Aalto and Italian culture, analysing the impact of Italian architecture on Aalto’s design activity. It will at the same time investigate the reception of Aalto’s work in Italy, through the analysis of the exhibitions on Aalto’s work held in major Italian cities, the publication of his projects in Italian journals and books, the prizes he received and the projects Aalto designed for Italy.