It's not easy being sensible when you can be sensationalist. Despite the temptation, Scandinavian designers became the unsung heroes of twentieth-century architecture by opting for the sensible route. They devised practical, attentive designs that supported highly individualized plans for living. To... [more]
It's not easy being sensible when you can be sensationalist. Despite the temptation, Scandinavian designers became the unsung heroes of twentieth-century architecture by opting for the sensible route. They devised practical, attentive designs that supported highly individualized plans for living. To combat the Modern quandary of slick form over poor function, Nordic architects used natural materials like wood and brick to maintain old-school standards of craftsmanship while adapting to new-school technology. By putting the needs of the inhabitants first, they put a warm, humanizing spin on Modernism, which was considered by many to inspire a chilly, sterile architecture.
Finnish architect Alvar Aalto knew how crucial it was to approach the drafting table with a sympathetic eye and a sensitive touch. His designs were functional -- respectful of nature and history, and thoughtful of the inhabitants. This attention to individuals' needs, along with his skillful handling of materials, light, and space, made him one of the architectural frontrunners of the twentieth century. His early triumph, the Paimio Sanatorium (1933), serves as an example of integrated environmental design, with Aalto creating not only the building itself, but also the furniture inside. The simple, reclining chair designed for the patients' rooms utilized a new technology to bend wood, rendering a product that was organic and easy to maneuver. Similar technology was applied to the stunning, three-story, suspended wooden walls that served as the centerpiece for the Finnish Pavilion at the 1939 World's Fair in New York City. Judging from many products in the Ikea catalog as well as Frank Gehry's sculptural bent-wood chairs, Aalto's influence still resonates today.
Like Aalto, Danish architect Arne Jacobsen produced works that were directly influenced by Modern styles and techniques, and a love of rich materials. While Jacobsen is known for his municipal works, he is probably better known for his chairs -- namely his stackable "Ant" design. With the current popularity of mid-century Modern furniture, his "Egg" and "Swan" chair designs are as trendy and sought after as a Fendi baguette bag.
Another great Dane, Jorn Utzon, began his career subscribing to the same straightforward design philosophy as Jacobsen and Aalto. Utzon is best known as the architect of the Sydney Opera House, one of the great recognizable buildings of the later part of this century. But before he won the competition for the highly expressionistic masterpiece, he designed considerate housing projects, incorporating sculptural and organic elements into their design.
The authenticity of everything these Scandinavian masters designed is testament to the practicality of the Nordic movement. Offering substance over fleeting appeal, understated elegance over flashiness, they created spaces befitting of the simple poetry of everyday life.