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Alvar Aalto

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Alvar Aalto is possibly the most enduringly influential of all Scandinavian designers. Although primarily an architect, he also successfully turned his hand to glassware, light fittings, furniture and even door handles. Unlike his modernist contemporaries in Germany and Italy who promoted the harsh use of synthetic materials such as glass and steel, Aalto chose to use laminated wood, resulting in furniture solutions that have both a natural, light and wholesome feel. It is little wonder he was influenced this way considering the abundance of Finnish birch forests on his doorstep.

Between 1924-29 Alvar and his wife Aino conducted numerous experiments exploring the limits of moulding plywood and investigating veneer bonding. These experiments resulted in Aalto’s most technically innovative chair, the No. 41 ‘Paimio’ designed for a Finnish tuberculosis sanatorium. This success led him and his wife to establish the manufacturing company ‘Artek’ in 1935, its name derived from ‘Art and Technology’.

Artek manufacture the iconic three-legged stool, which Aalto tested the durability of, by hurling to the floor and proclaimed “we will sell thousands of these”. In this respect he couldn’t have been further from the mark and more than 1.5 million have been produced since. Artek is still manufacturing Aalto’s tea trolleys, shelves, chairs, umbrella stands and they still look as fresh as they did 70 years ago.


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