Surprising revelations emerge in John Stewart’s masterly examination of the life of the great Finnish architect


‘Alvar Aalto: Architect’
John Stewart, foreword by Richard Rogers
Merrell, 272pp, £40

In drawing on new interviews and original sources hitherto overlooked, John Stewart’s revisionist biography of Alvar Aalto challenges much received wisdom. Rather than consolidating perceptions of a quiet, unassuming Finnish architect whose buildings speak for themselves, Stewart casts Aalto as pushy, opportunistic and self-promoting, making his own good fortune through unwavering self-belief.

Most telling among many intriguing aspects of Aalto’s life is Stewart’s account of 1927 when he suddenly turned his back on the Nordic classicism of Asplund to embrace the heroic modernism of Le Corbusier, redesigning every project on the drawing boards of his burgeoning office in the new modernist idiom.


Alvar and Aino Aalto with their Norwegian assistants, Harald Wildhagen and Erling Bjertnaes, in the South-Western Finland Agricultural Co-operative building (1927-28) c1928 (ph: Alvar Aalto Museum). Top: Aalto in California in 1939 (ph: Aino Aalto, Alvar Aalto Estate/Alvar Aalto Museum).

Elissa and Alvar Aalto in the Studio Aalto, Helsinki, c1957 (ph: Heikki Havas, Alvar Aalto Museum)

Alvar Aalto in the 1940s (ph: Eino Mäkinen, Alvar Aalto Museum)


Alvar Aalto hunting, c1914 (ph: Alvar Aalto Museum)


Competition entry for Lyngby-Taarbaek Cemetery and Chapel, Denmark. 1951 (ph: Alvar Aalto Museum)