“The main thing is to refine materials in a more human direction.”
A revered name in Finland, and an icon of Scandinavian design, Alvar Aalto is synonymous with a more 'humanistic' brand of modernism, characterized by organic forms and material warmth—an esthetic preference which stands in stark contrast to Le Corbusier's rectilinear, glass-and-steel ethos.
While Aalto's architectural style falls within the overall cannon of Scandinavian Modernism, his preference for undulating shapes and tactile surfaces spawned a body of architectural work entirely distinct from his contemporaries. Like Charles and Ray Eames across the Atlantic, Aalto's groundbreaking experiments with bent plywood expanded the boundaries of what was thought possible with the material, and became a hallmark of both his buildings and his furniture.
In 1935, Aalto and his wife Aino founded Artek, a design and manufacturing studio through which his experiments with bent plywood could be exactingly realized. Artek remains the sole manufacturer of Aalto furniture, and one of his many lasting legacies. Aalto's interest in materials extended beyond wood—exemplified by his Aalto Vase, a gently rhythmic, instantly recognizable form, rumored to have been inspired by the shape of a woman's blouse. Fitting for a man whose name translates to the Finnish word for 'wave,' Alvar Alto, it seems, could never stray far from his beloved curves.