Finnish elegance flows into Korean showrooms

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Finnish elegance flows into Korean showrooms

Mingling among ergonomic arm chairs and walking past images of an elegant sun-lit lounge, the crowd of diplomats and officials imparted a stiff, ceremonial atmosphere as they listened to dignitaries giving speeches at the opening of the new Alvar Aalto exhibition. But as soon as the doors opened to the public, a mood of inspired curiosity broke out, and a throng of young students who had been waiting in line gaped at 80-year-old works that appeared stylish and modern.
“Alvar Aalto Houses: Timeless Expressions” at the Korea Design Center in Bundang features 80 pieces of the Finnish designer’s work, including furniture, miniature models and photographs of 16 private homes.
During the opening event, Finnish Ambassador to Korea Kim Luotonen told the dignitaries and guests that he hoped the exhibition would serve as an “introduction to the Finnish way of life, as Alvar Aalto’s influence has been so important in the thinking of Finland’s present-day architects and designers.”
Mr. Luotonen, who came to Korea in 2004, also explained that as Finland’s most famous architect, Aalto was one of the leading interpreters of functionalism in the late 1920s and ’30s, together with European modernists of the time such as Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier.
In addition to the wall-size photographs and miniature models of his projects, there is a life-size replica of a room designed by Aalto in 1930, stocked with armchairs and lamps and a collection of assorted glassware. Visitors enjoy a bird’s-eye view of Aalto’s important private houses, including Villa Mairea (1939) and Maison Carre (1961).

Born Hugo Alvar Henrik Aalto in 1898 in Kuortane, Finland, Aalto studied architecture at the Technical University of Helsinki. He started off as an exhibition designer but turned to architecture and furniture design.
Fins have grown up surrounded by Aalto’s swooping big buildings: the Finlandia Hall in Helsinki, the campus of the University of Technology of Helsinki in Espoo and the Paimio sanatorium, which has been proposed for inclusion on the UNESCO world heritage list. His reputation as one of the most influential Scandinavian architects is built upon more than 200 buildings and projects, ranging from factories to churches to resident homes, in Finland and across Europe.
Many of his signature works ― minimal yet romantic ― are still being produced by Artek, a company Aalto established in 1935. Artek still markets furniture, lamps and fabrics designed by the famous Fin.
When Aalto died in 1976, he left behind timeless values in design and materials. His curvy chairs are ergonomically and environmentally friendly, yet elegant in proportion. A lamp hangs like a piece of minimalist sculpture without discounting its function of illuminating a room. A meticulously made miniature model shows a cottage-like home built in the middle of a verdant forest. It never disrupts nature, yet stands with it own clear form.

The IHT-JoongAng Daily caught up with the curator of the Korean exhibition, Hanni Sippo of the Alvar Aalto Museum in Helsinki.

Q. What is the purpose of the museum in Finland?
A. We nurture Finnish design by organizing exhibitions around the world. [This] continues the Aalto heritage [in Finland] and abroad. We oversee Aalto buildings and homes to properly refurbish and restore them while they are still being lived in and consult how the buildings can be properly maintained. There are about 20 homes outside Finland ― in Germany, Italy and France ― so my job is to go [there] to make sure the buildings maintain their shape.

What did you do before working at the museum?
I used to be an architect before I joined the museum 10 years ago. I still practice architecture, mostly to restore old buildings. Our job is to bring life to buildings. We are both a privately and government-supported organization, and there are six board members, who include Alvar Aalto’s family members as well.

Do you think Korea is ready for this kind of exhibition?
Yes, I think it’s about time. Korea is ready. I see that Korean buildings are well designed with details. The exhibition hall is large and is well-spaced. The sister exhibition currently being held in South America is much smaller.

by Ines Cho

The exhibition, “Alvar Aalto Houses: Timeless Expressions,” runs through April 16 in the basement of the Korea Design Center. The exhibition is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The center is located in Yatap-dong, Bundang district, Gyeonggi province. Admission is 2,000 won ($2) for adults and 1,000 won for students. For more information, call the Korea Design Center at (031) 780-2020 or visit the Web site,
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