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I beg you do not forget playfulness. Alvar Aalto

The Finnish approach to architecture is a sobering yet exhilarating antidote to a world gone mad for excessive and absurdly expensive design. Aalto fit his buildings to the scale of the human body and the natural world around them. Budget-restricted architects trying to breathe inspired life into their work need only to study the great Finnish master. Instead of travertine, he created stairs of brick or wood. For the graceful, big curve of his Helsinki studio space, first completed in 1955, he used insulation paper because of its interesting ribbed pattern, then applied thin, vertical ribs of wood and painted it all white. Inexpensive, and stunning. The studio now houses the Alvar Aalto Foundation, which organizes the International Alvar Aalto Symposium that takes place in the city of Jyvaskyla every three years.

Aalto devoted much of his energy to capturing natural light, cutting rows of round skylights in lobbies or cafeterias. In universities and the compelling National Pensions Institute in downtown Helsinki, he used thick structural columns with vertical rows of curved ceramic piping. Aalto was playing, albeit seriously, all the time.

Harry and Maire Gullichsen were among the wealthiest people in Finland when they commissioned Aalto to design their Villa Mairea during the Depression, but there are rattan mats on the floors rather than Persian carpets. There are flagstones on the ground and columns resting on small boulders at the front entrance. I am amazed by balustrades and arbours made of spruce saplings. In a home filled with Picassos and Fernand Legers and Alexander Calders, there are bookcases on the study walls made of birch plywood nothing fancy, just engaging and warm.

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