Aalto and America

Stanford Anderson, Gail Fenske and David Fixler, eds. (London and New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012)

The architecture of Alvar Aalto won wide respect but did not sit easily in the established histories of modern architecture. Two critical strategies sought to resolve this problem: informed differentiation of Aalto’s work within the canon of modern architecture, or the construction of an alternative tradition of modern architecture. Each of these strategies had its triumphs in recognizing the deeply affective internal complexity of Aalto’s work, but they also had their limits in defining Aalto as the “other” relative to some predefined norm.

I want to claim that our book develops an appreciation of Aalto and his work that comes from first principles and from close attention to Aalto’s thought and work. This can be recognized in many of the essays in the book, but it has its foundation and brilliant development in the first essay, Sarah Williams Goldhagen’s “Aalto’s Embodied Rationalism.” Her key insight is that Aalto’s thought and work stands in traditions that build on a nuanced understanding of rationalism that is integral not only to our minds but to our bodies.

From this ground, Aalto and America explores Aalto’s five American works, his broad association in American architectural culture, his teaching at MIT, and his changing evaluations of America.


  • MIT, Baker House
  • Alvar Aalto, winning competition entry for the Finland Pavilion, New York World's Fair, 1939. Sketch of undulating wall.
  • Reading Room, Mount Angel Abbey Library, Oregon. 1963-1970. Photo: Richard H. Strode.
  • Aalto with MIT students, 'An American Town in Finland,' a schematic plan for a model town in Finland, 1940. Detail.