Adelaide Film Festival 2020: Aalto

Director: Virpi Suutari (2019)

I came into Aalto with a working understanding of the times and context Alvar Aalto worked in, but not much of an understanding of the architect himself. If you find yourself interested, and similarly are in situation A, B or even neither – the documentary has plenty to offer.

Aalto presents the architect as an outsider who came of age as part of a wave of modernist architects, thrust into its centre after the Second World War before becoming one of the profession’s revered elder statesmen. Aalto’s personality, much like his architecture was presented in contrast to the rationality of his peers. If you’ve ever bought a table from IKEA with curved legs, or went to a school with straw ceilings and chunky timber railings, this should bring to mind some familiar images.

The architect’s sensibility stands out as almost erotic in comparison to his modernist contemporaries, with a focus on the tactile qualities of how details and forms looked, felt and composed. His demeanour is similarly plodding, content to dwell in studio and creatively pursuing whatever came to mind. 


More importantly, however Aalto also highlights the other players who collectively are responsible for the body of work. The influence of furniture companies in driving the innovation behind some now-iconic furniture pieces, as well as popularising them in the English speaking world is touched on.

The influence of Aino Aalto, Aalto’s partner and an accomplished architect in her own right is a recurring theme throughout Aalto. While both were arguably equally responsible for the design work itself, Aalto casts Aino as being additionally responsible for the day to day running of the office, the Aalto and Alvar himself. Like the treatment of many famous architect couples, a more realistic and fair acknowledgement of who did what is often eschewed in favour of mythologising a lone, male protagonist – and Aalto does its bit to challenge this. 

3/5

– Tin Do

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