Observations and Impressions (Personal)
I do not propose to set myself up as an architectural critic. I do propose to give my impressions of a few Aalto buildings I visited. If they sound like the same thing you will have to judge their merits according to my precaution here given.
Finland in the long cold winter is overcast and much like Oregon in its dark, dour days. Mr. Aalto has long been concerned with keeping his buildings light and cheerful. The circular designs on the plans are skylights. The tipped roof line on the North side is a light scoop around the perimeter of the top floor. It is a cheerful experience to enter an Aalto building on a gloomy day. The light on the perimeter gives an atmosphere of light, a feeling of coming-into-the-light not a going out of it. The central part of the building has this same effect through the round overhead porthole. It adds a dimension of interest to usually dead space. There is an element of wonderment in the charm of an Aalto interior.
A person wonders how he accomplishes so much with so little. Part of the secret seems to lie in the wedding of function and design achieved by making the function be the design.
There is a sense of friendly, playful atmosphere, but an atmosphere which is somehow classical at the same time.
In addition to a number of Helsinki buildings of Mr. Aalto, I visited one of his most recently completed buildings. It is a library at Rovaniemi. The library is larger than our proposed building. I have some pictures of this which I will place in the reacreation room when I finish them. I have some colored transparencies which will allow you to judge for yourself.
The building is magnificent in its interiors. From the standpoint of library administration I do not understand its staff areas. Its "people" area is visually apparent and visually superb. Our fast growing population would dictate that a public library such as this have more mobility. We think in terms of larger and larger. Europeans think in terms of now...and then, perhaps. (I was in Europe for the greater part of eight whole days, you know.)
The librarian at Rovaniemi told an interesting anecdote. The Russian delegation came to inspect the newest library in Lapland. The Finnish state building code requires bomb shelters to house the people who might at any time be in the building. The Russian delegation wanted to know "whatever are you doing with a bomb shelter? There will never be any need for such a thing."(!)
The newest of the buildings of Aalto in Helsinki are the Concert hall, Student Residence, Thermo-technical Laboratory, and the Student Center. The three latter are in connection with the Finnish Technical Institute project. Mr. Aalto won the competition in his design for the whole campus layout. He is personally doing some of the key buildings.
A review in retrospect of Mr. Aalto's work will appear shortly in the Architectural Forum, Eric Vartianinen is the author of the article.
Cardinal Lercaro has asked Mr. Aalto to design a new church in Bologna. It will be the first church in Bologna according to the principles and spirit of the new liturgical constitution. The Cardinal made a big thing of this. Mr. Aalto was much impressed with the "Aalto Day" in Bologna. Civic officials, prelates, etc. He was so impressed that he apparently considered all lesser officials of the Church as monsignors. I was duly invested with the title when introduced to his friends.
To Sum Up
Eric will be here in June with the plans. Following presentation of these plans, Eric will proceed to Berkeley where he will guide them through the engineering at the firm of DeMars and Well. Before the engineering is too far advanced but advanced far enough for accurate estimate of building costs, these will be presented to us. Bids will be let locally. Eric will supervise the building construction.
The Aaltos will be here as soon as his doctor will authorize travel. His office thinks in terms of a time following Eric's visit. Mr. Aalto will be here several times according to the way his office envisions it. It is his usual procedure. I think the provision "if his health permits" might be in order.
In his present projects, Mr. Aalto's work is spread from the Arctic Circle to Bagdad, through Finland, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Lebanon and America. Building at a distance is difficult. For Aalto it is not unusual. Mr. DeMars comments that part of Aalto's great reputation is that he gets buildings completed.
The latest book on Mr. Aalto will be found in the Recreation Room.