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Department of Architecture


As well as being curated by Dr Sofia Singler, an Assistant Professor in the Department, the exhibition fittings have been designed by former Design Fellow Anna Andrich.

Alvar Aalto in Germany: Drawing Modernism at the Museum for Architectural Drawing, presented in collaboration with the Alvar Aalto Foundation in Finland, sets on display over 70 original drawings by the renowned Finnish architects Alvar Aalto (1898–1976) and Elissa Aalto (1922–1994) and their practice.

Spanning works from the 1950s, when Alvar Aalto was summoned to contribute to the vast (re)construction efforts that followed the Second World War, to the 1980s, when Elissa Aalto boldly brought to completion major projects that were left unfinished upon her husband’s death in 1976, the exhibition features original drawings of the office’s fourteen projects in Germany, both realised and unrealised. The six realised projects comprise three dyads: one pair each of churches, apartment blocks, and cultural buildings. The eight unrealised plans, in turn, encompass major public programmes – town halls, civic centres, master plans and commercial office buildings.

The drawings presented in this exhibition chronicle the relationship which Alvar Aalto fostered with Germany and German architectural culture from his youth to his death, and which was cultivated further by Elissa Aalto. From the late 1940s and early 1950s onward, Alvar Aalto Architects Ltd. was heralded in Germany as a “humane” exception to an otherwise more mechanised doctrinaire modernism. The promise of the studio’s purportedly softer genre of modernism was particularly auspicious in light of the horrors associated with mechanisation after the Second World War.


The exhibition presents the drawings neither chronologically nor project by project, but thematically. The first two themes address city-building. “Natural and Civic Topographies” explores how members of the Aalto studio sought to ensure that their German civic buildings and master plans grew organically from, and resonated with, their existing geographical and cultural contexts. “Projecting Identity” interrogates how architectural form and urban space were employed as tools of communicating a sense of local character to the world beyond, especially via massing and elevation.

The second two themes focus on specific architectural programs, and the challenges inherent in their design. “Boundaries of the Sacred” charts the ways in which Studio Aalto’s two churches in Wolfsburg negotiate the relationship between the sacred and the profane, a tension interpreted especially in the design of walls, whereas “Humanising Standardisation” documents an effort to subjugate paradigms of efficiency and optimisation to human comfort in the domestic context.

The drawings show that, for members of Studio Aalto, paper was the basic subsistence that kept alive the creative process. It was not art. The drawings are therefore beautiful but never selfconsciously precious: their visual appeal is a by-product rather than end goal. The rambling, collaborative, spontaneous drawing process is best illustrated by early sketches for the various projects. As material traces of thinking, they are plainly and comprehensively honest, and dense. A calm counterpoint to the early untamed sketches is provided by carefully-drafted working drawings, which narrate the maturation of intuitive flurried ideas into delicate final designs.

Image credit: Anna Andrich Studio

This exhibition is made possible by a generous grant from the AHRC Impact Acceleration Account (IAA) at the University of Cambridge. The show is co-sponsored additionally by the Alvar Aalto Foundation in Finland and the Museum for Architectural Drawing itself (where the exhibition is hosted). The patron of the exhibition is the Finnish Institute in Germany.