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Alvar Aalto: Planning Finland, c. 1940

Authors: Pelkonen, Eeva-Liisa
Keywords: architecture;World War II;urban planning;Aalto, Alvar;Finno-Russian War
Issue Date: 23-Sep-2011
Abstract: My paper will deal with Alvar Aalto's planning ideas during the two Finno-Russian Wars between 1939-40 and 1941-44, during which he spent prolonged periods in the U.S. and became exposed to American regionalism. I will focus on a seminal year 1940 when Aalto was most actively pursuing different planning ideas during and in the aftermath of the Winter War. I will discuss a series of articles and projects which demonstrate the various ways he started to apply regionalist planning principles to the Finnish war-time context. His article 'Finland' written for the Architectural Forum in 1940 maps out the foundation of Finnish modernism on the lines of American regionalism and puts forth his plan for reconstruction. The proposal 'American Town in Finland' executed while Aalto held a research professorship at MIT was a first attempt to put regionalist principles to use. A little brochure entitled 'Post-War Reconstruction: Rehousing Research in Finland', published through the Finnish Consulate in New York for American distribution in 1940, puts forward the idea of 'flexible standardization,' which allowed architecture to absorb various contingencies from site conditions to programmatic needs. Aalto's first large scale planning project, the Kokemäki River Valley Regional Plan (1940), both commissioned by Finnish industry, both encompassed new settlements, infrastructure, production, and recreational facilities and used planning as a means to regulate the spatial relationships between these functions. I will point out how the Second World War offers a backdrop, even an answer, to Aalto's activities at that time. The 'Finland' article was aimed at convincing his American audience--a potential source of humanitarian aid--that the Finns had nothing to do with the (putatively) Communist-infested international modern movement nor nationalism that fuelled the Second World War. My paper will thus expose the audience to little-known aspects of Aalto's activities and persona, namely that he was very well versed in statecraft and saw his writings and architecture as a means to promote and even act out various geographical scripts. His geographic narratives produced terminology, representations, and spatial products whose goal was to understand and reinforce national culture, on the one hand, and conceptualize relationships to other countries, on the other. The spatial idea behind regionalism was a nested network, in which the country's internal infrastructural, settlement, and production networks are supported by and connected to the larger global networks of international commerce. On the whole exposure to regionalism helped him to overcome the nationalist and internationalist ideologies that had fuelled much of the architecture culture of the early part of the 20th century and take a pragmatist approach to geographic questions emphasizing management of economic, human, and natural resources during the period of post-war Finnish reconstruction, which eventually laid the foundation for the future economic prosperity of the country.
Rights: Copyright Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen, 2009.
Appears in Collections:Front to Rear: Architecture and Planning during World War II, March 7-8, 2009

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