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Vila Mairea

Noormarkku, Finland
1 of 20

Villa Mairea was by Alvar Aalto for a wealthy couple Harry and Maire Gullichsen in Noormarkku, Finland. The Gullichsens were members of the Ahlstrom family.

The plan of the villa takes Mairea L-shaped fond Aalto, but slightly modified. It is a plan that automatically gives a semi-private area on the side, and a more public or more receiving another space. The lawn and pool are located in the hollow of L, with a range of rooms oriented in this direction. The horizontal and door overhang in the overall composition meet the flat expanses of the site, and the curves of the pool lines embrace the topography of the surrounding forest. The interiors play with wood, stone and bricks.

First Concepts and Fallingwater Influence

First proposal were done in 1937 when Aalto proposed a rustic hut modeled on vernacular farmhouses. Later in 1938 inspiration came from a radically different source, the 'Fallingwater' designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, which had just received international acclaim thanks to an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and publication in Life and Time magazines, as well as in architectural journals.

The influence of Fallingwater show boldly cantilevered balconies and an undulating basement story intended as a substitution for the natural forms of the stream and rocks. In later sketches, the free-form basement appears as an upper-floor studio with a serpentine wall sunk into a one-and-half storey entrance hall, forming a drop-ceiling around the fireplace. The undulating, wave form was already established as a leitmotiv of Aalto's work: it was familiar from the vases designed for the 'Savoy Restaurant' in Helsinki. The free forms of nature were seen as symbols of human freedom, and as early as 1926 Aalto 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 in the modern world between brutal mechanicalness and religious beauty in life. The fact that the Finnish word aalto means 'wave' doubtless added a certain piquancy to his attraction to the motif.

L-shape And First Proto Plans

The L-shape distinguishes between the house proper and the integral studio; at Villa Mairea, it separates the family accommodation from that of a courtyard - garden variously enclosed by combinations of walls, fences, trellises and the wooden sauna.

In 1938 the Gullichsens approved a design called the Proto-Mairea. The plan established the basic disposition of accommodation found in the finished house, with the dining situated in the corner between the family rooms and the servants' wing, and the bedrooms and Maire's studio upstairs, the latter originally expressed as a free-form curve in elevation, rather than plan. After the foundations had been excavated Aalto had a new idea and was able to persuade his clients to accept a radical redesign in which only the plan footprint and servant wing remained more or less intact. The basement was greatly reduced in area, and the main entrance moved from its curious position at the side and rear to a much more obvious location in front of the dining room. Marie's studio was re-positioned to occupy the place above the former entrance canopy, whose shape it echoes, and the various reception rooms were accommodated in a large 14 metre-square space. The separate art gallery was removed and its place taken by the sauna, which nestles against a low L-shaped stone wall, the remainder of the original wall and trellis being replaced by a short fence and earth mound.

Harry Gullichsen's only objection to the revised design was the lack of a separate library where he could hold confidential business meetings, for which Aalto proposed a small room screened by movable shelving units which did not reach the ceiling. Aalto suggested that these units could also be used for storing Maire's art collection - an idea which, he pointed out, should be 'socially supportable as it could be realized in a small, even single room, dwelling' where the inhabitant has 'a personal relationship to the phenomena of art'.

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malina, November 5th, 2017
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