In the time between the two World Wars, it was the countries of Scandinavia that really began to develop a unique and revolutionary approach to design. Their approach to design was heralded for it’s cultivation of a fine balance – between the preservation of craft materials and traditions and standardized mass production and social reform. It is this unique Scandinavian synthesis of modernism that was born of the molded plywood and laminated birch chair designs of the young Finnish architect, AlvarAalto ( 1898-1976).
His armchairs, still manufactured by Artek (the company he establishe in Helsinki in 1935) were inspired by the light tubular metal furniture designed by Marcel Breuer at the Bahaus.
Whilst committed to the use of industrial processes, Aalto preferred wood to tubular metal and experimented with laminated birch (an abundant natural resource in Finland), in the process, doing away with upholstery and decoration. The use of laminate rather than carved woods permitted uniformity and ease of construction – thus his designs appeared industrial as opposed to hand-crafted. The use of organic forms and natural wood surface also served to soften the geometry and austerity of comparable metal constructed from standardized components. Most experts agree that his designs were in close continuum with the free and irregular abstract forms of surrealism.
Aalto was able to explore the connections with Surrealism further in the design of glassware that suggests a particular analogie to the suggestive forms of the sculpures of Belgian-born sculptor, Jean Arp. This can be seen in Aalto’s Savoy vase of c.1936 with its amoeba-like form and plays to activate negative space.
At HFOC we have some great Alvar Aalto pieces that would bring an important slice of Scandinavian design history into your home.