A collage of materials amongst the trunks of countless birch trees in the Finnish landscape, the Villa Mairea built by Alvar Aalto in 1939 is a significant dwelling that marks a transition from traditional to modern architecture. Built as a guest house and rural retreat for Harry and Maire Gullichsen, Aalto was given permission to experiment with his thoughts and styles, which becomes clear when studying the strangely cohesive residence.
The constant theme of a shifting and advancing technology is ever present in Aalto's design. The transformation of materials and therefore the experiences created by them form fences and then walls around and through the villa.
Starting at a shorter mound of compacted dirt rises a fence roughly woven together from long sticks. A regularity arises as it lengthens and the sticks become more directional and linear, until it merges with the wooden walls of the grass-roof sauna which continues on to form the roof of a outdoor space and walkway.
This same concept of a morphing technology continues throughout the house, as materials shift form a stone to stone slab to glass and steel in the winter garden room. From the front door to the inside of the house, the materiality of the floor also changes as it becomes progressively more domestic and intimate, from stone to tiles to timber boarding and rugs.
As it is placed in such an such a mesmerizing natural environment, Aalto used this to his advantage and designed with the intentions of blurring the lines between being inside or outdoors.
The verticality of the columns existing throughout the house and posts found by the staircase mimic the sea of birch trees that surround the house. Aalto purposely makes each column different, “to avoid all artificial architectural rhythms.”
The main living area appears to open and close, which reproduces a similar experience as when walking through a forest.
A forest light shines through the undulating screen that forms the wall between the bookcase partitions of the library and the ceiling to further imitate the experience of being outdoors. Upon exiting out of the front door, one is submerged in a row of these columns, which are placed specifically by Aalto to emphasize the continuity found between the environment of both inside the villa and out.
Aalto fuses a modern open plan with the ghost of a traditional-style tupa, which is a large living room of a farmhouse in which poles from the ceiling to the ground mark the boundaries of areas created specifically for different activities. The basic L-shape of the floor plan is very characteristic of Scandinavian architects and is also found in his other house Munkkiniemi, another hint towards a more traditional style.
Juxtaposed against these rigid right angle forms that mark edges and boundaries of spaces and textures alike are wave-like forms which are considered by some as symbols of human freedom. Aalvo remarked that the “curving, living, unpredictable line which runs in dimensions unknown to mathematics is for me the incarnation of everything that forms a contrast to the modern world between brutal mechanicalness and religious beauty in life.” This free-form is found throughout the house, from the shape of the swimming pool and balcony spaces to other smaller finer details, like the fireplace.