Traditionally Europe is seen as the centre of the art world and tourists travel many miles to visit the famous galleries and museums of major European cities; yet the streets of Europe are an artwork in themselves and architects the artists that have left their mark.
ART ON THE STREETS
Helsinki was declared the World Design Capital in 2012, an honorific title that paid tribute to the importance of design in the Finnish capital. Austrian influenced art nouveau buildings with decorative flourishes and gargoyles built at the turn of the last century give a fairy-tale feel to the compact metropolis of 1.2 million people, but it is the work of Finland’s most famous designer that dominates the city.
His most famous contribution to the streets of Helsinki is Finlandia Hall, a modernist concert hall by Toolonlahti Bay. The Hall is clad in white Carrara marble which has, since it was unveiled in 1971, damaged in Helsinki’s extreme temperatures but the damage has only served to make the building more striking.
Tourists can also travel out to visit the late architect’s house in Munkkinniemi in the northern suburbs of the Helsinki which, since Aalto’s death in 1976, become a museum. Helsinki also boasts the controversial Kiasma Museum of Contemporary, a fittingly contemporary design with a curving concrete atrium and glass ceiling by America architect and Alvar Alto Medal winner Steven Holl in the 1990s; it is one of the few buildings in Helsinki not designed by a Fin.
Aalto’s contribution to architecture in Europe is not just to be found in Finland, his buildings can be discovered and explored in France, Italy and most commonly, Germany and Berlin. A fascinating architectural city in its own right, Berlin is one of the four major so-called Aalto towns in the country.
In the 1950s Aalto joined with some of the biggest names in modern architecture, Ludwig mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius and designed eight storeys high apartment blocks in Hansaviertel, Berlin, as part of the International Building Exhibition or Interbau, designed to encourage the rehabilitation and growth of Berlin in the 1950s.
Walks around Berlin are educational tours of statement architecture. Fittingly in a country where architecture was used as a political statement in the form of the Berlin Wall, there is some of the most exciting and impressive architecture in Europe contained in the city. Since the fall of the wall, new architectural stars like Frank Gehry, Rem Koolhaas, Norman Foster, Richard Rogers and Alvar Aalto’ Medal winner James Stirling have made the mark.
Angela has undertaken several educational tours of the architecture of Europe exploring the influence of art on modern buildings. She writes about design for websites, blogs and magazines.