Visiting Alvar Aalto's Nordic House

Nordic House/Promo image

Alvar Aalto was one of the great architects of the twentieth century; while his work was modern, he was much more in the tradition of Frank Lloyd Wright in his use of natural materials and the influence of craft than he was in the machine age theories of Le Corbusier. He and his wife, Elissa, designed everything from vases to furniture to buildings to town plans. (Actually, she did most of the furniture and houseware design but he took most of the credit). I had always admired his work but had never actually been in it until I visited Nordic House in Reykjavik. According to their website,

The Nordic House in Reykjavík is a cultural institution opened in 1968 and operated by the Nordic Council of Ministers. Its goal is to foster and support cultural connections between Iceland and the other Nordic countries....

Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

The Nordic House is designed by acclaimed Finnish modernist architect Alvar Aalto (1898-1976). The house is one of his later works, a hidden gem among the better known masterpieces, and features most of Aalto's signature traits. These are evident in the ultramarine blue ceramic rooftop that takes its organic shape from the mountain row in the background, the central well in the library and the extensive use of white, tile and wood throughout the building.

Library/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

The most impressive space is the library, with its wood finishes and the Aalto furniture.

Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Another view.

Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

The dining room was full of Aalto furniture of course, and since downtown Reykjavik was crazy full for a festival we decided to stay there for lunch. I did not expect much, given how most museum fare is, but in fact it is a significant institution with one of Iceland's top chefs, Gunnar Karl Gíslason, and in fact is a restaurant with a manifesto:

1. To express the purity, freshness, simplicity and ethics that we would like to associate with our region.
2. To reflect the different seasons in the meals.
3. To base cooking on raw materials which characteristics are especially excellent in our climate, landscape and waters.
4. To combine the demand for good taste with modern knowledge about health and well-being.
5. To promote the Nordic products and the variety of Nordic producers – and to disseminate the knowledge of the cultures behind them.
6. To promote the welfare of the animals and a sound production in the sea and in the cultivated as well as wild landscapes.
7. To develop new possible applications of traditional Nordic food products.
8. To combine the best Nordic cooking procedures and culinary traditions with impulses from outside.
9. To combine local self-sufficiency with regional exchange of high-quality goods.
10. To cooperate with representatives of consumers, other cooking craftsmen, agriculture, fishing industry, food industry, retail and wholesale industry, researchers, teachers, politicians and authorities on this joint project to the benefit and advantage of all in the Nordic countries.

Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

And indeed, it was delicious, as good as the view. There is a warmth to the building that you don't get in a lot of modern architecture; you want to fondle it. The book on the building says "everything was designed with great care and precision, where economy and aesthetics are both taken into consideration as is customary with Aalto." It is a lovely thing.

Tags: Architects | Architecture | Iceland | Scandinavia

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