Outside the Canon: Revisionist Readings of Aalto

OUTSIDE THE CANONRevisionist readings of Alvar AaltoProclaiming that \”God created paper for the purpose of drawing architecture on it. Everything else is an abuse of paper,\” Alvar Aalto used to advice his students: \”We don\’t talk about architecture – we just draw beautiful lines\”. This dictum was not entirely sincere – in fact, Aalto was a rather prolific writer – but it has been effective in regulating the discourse on his architecture. The familiar image of Aalto as the most \’natural\’ and \’human\’ of the modern masters was already established by his friend Sigfried Giedion in Space, Time and Architecture in 1949, and the same view has been reproduced by later authors over and again. The centenary of Aalto\’s birth in 1998 released a flood of new publications but they also added very little to the canonic interpretation. By contrast, this seminar takes a critical look at the evidence in Aalto\’s buildings, projects and writings, tracks down the mechanisms that engendered the orthodox view, and proposes other readings. The construction of the legend of Finnish architecture and the creation of the specific brand of Aalto is examined in historical and discursive contexts with specific attention to the role of the Museum of Finnish Architecture. Key moments in the formation of the canonic interpretation are traced in examples from writings by Giedion, Curtis and Weston. The qualities usually attributed to Aalto\’s architecture, including its allegedly Finnish, natural, human and sensitive character, will be analyzed through close readings of several buildings. The results of this investigation will be used to sketch out a theory of art-writing in general. Aalto\’s different ways of generating form, ranging from intuitive creation to strict geometrical derivation, will be discussed in detail. An attempt will be made to determine the organizational principles of Aalto\’s designs, from the contrasting of the generic with the unique and the box with the blob to the collage strategy, as suggested by Pallasmaa and Quantrill, or the principles of heterotopia, particularization, typology and metaphor, as proposed by Porphyrios. In this context, metaphors will be discussed as a means of inflecting, subverting or replacing typology. In addition to formal readings, psychoanalytically informed interpretations as well as feminist analyses of Aalto\’s work will be examined, along with applications of phenomenological thought from Pallasmaa and Holl to Pauline von Bonsdorff. In the latter approach, a particular emphasis will be on the multisensory perception of buildings and the haptic qualities of materials. Given Aalto\’s derivation of \’Finnishness\’ from an admixture of foreign architectures (Italy, Japan, Africa), a particular discussion will involve the constitution of local or national identities in modernist architecture and the implications of more recent globalization of the architectural practice. In this context, Aalto\’s buildings and urban schemes for Finland will be juxtaposed with those designed for German and Italian locations. Finally, Aalto\’s architecture will be used as a basis for a discussion of modernity and modernisms in the twentieth century as a historiographical and political problem. Aalto will be positioned in the field of modernist discourse in relation to other major architects, including Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe and Hans Scharoun, and this synchronic reading will be applied to explain his influence on younger architects, such as Jorn Utzon, Reima Pietila, Robert Venturi, Alvaro Siza, Heikkinen & Komonen as well as other contemporary Scandinavian architects. These examples will be used to question some methodological principles of architecture history, including projective reading, the notion of influence, the role of precedent, and the function of narrative. Course requirements:In addition