The Finnish architect Alvar Aalto died in May 1976 at age 78, but the spectacular designs he left behind in architecture, furniture, glassware and even textiles remain, inspiring new generations of designers and showcasing clever and innovative products.
Now more people around the world will be able to see Aalto’s work virtually through a partnership between Google, the Google Cultural Institute and the Alvar Aalto Foundation in Finland, which is bringing many examples of Aalto’s work online in several special exhibits.
The collaborative exhibits were announced by William Echikson, head of community relations for Google in Europe, in an Aug. 25 post on the Google Europe Blog.
“Alvar Aalto changed the way we see the world,” wrote Echikson. “Finland’s famed architect and designer not only built path-breaking buildings during his long, fruitful life, he also designed some of the 20th century’s most innovative furniture, textiles and glassware. Today, we’re proud to announce a partnership with the Alvar Aalto Foundation to bring much of this genius’s important work online–allowing anyone, anywhere to virtually visit many of his most important buildings and learn about his design breakthroughs.”
For Google, the project has special meaning, wrote Echikson. “We have built one of our two largest data centers in Finland–and the architect of our data center building was none other than Aalto,” he wrote. “The Finnish master originally designed our data center in Hamina as a paper mill. The mill closed in 2007. We took over the empty building, transformed and expanded it, investing so far almost a billion euros and creating hundreds of jobs in the region, while attempting to keep intact as much as possible of the Aalto heritage.”
Images of the interior and exterior of the renovated building have been published on Google Street View in a special Aalto collection, wrote Echikson. “Aalto designed many other buildings in the area around our data center–including the world-famed Sunila worker housing in Kotka. We long have shown the outsides of these buildings on Street View. We’re now adding the interiors.”
For fans of Aalto’s work, many of his most famous buildings are located hundreds of miles apart, which makes them difficult to visit in one trip, wrote Echikson. That’s where the exhibit fills in the blanks by capturing images of those far apart buildings and bringing them into one collection, he added. “We toured the entire country to photograph his most important masterpieces. We went to his hometown Jyvaskyla in central Finland and photographed the Alvar Aalto Museum and Säynätsalo Town Hall.”
Also included are images in the Finnish capital of Helsinki of Aalto’s studio and two important cultural buildings, Finlandia Hall and the House of Culture, wrote Echikson. “At the Restaurant Savoy, Aalto brought Finnish nature into the center of Helsinki, designing still-in-production door knobs, clean-lined lighting fixtures, club chairs, and the famed Savoy vase, mirroring the outlines of a Finnish lake.”
Two of the new online exhibitions were put together through cooperation between Finland’s Aalto Foundation and the Google Cultural Institute platform. “The first focuses on Aalto’s famed three-legged stool 60,” wrote Echikson. “This much-imitated model relied on one of Aalto’s most important innovations–a new process for bending wood that he applied to create organic shapes. The stool was designed in 1933 and was first used in two major early works of Aalto: Paimio Sanatorium and Vyborg Library before becoming an iconic piece of modernist furniture for people to furnish their homes with.”
Google Honors Famed Finnish Architect Alvar Aalto
The second exhibition describes the 2013 renovation of the Vyborg Library, which when it was built was considered a modernist chef d’oeuvre, softening and humanizing the hard edges of German Bauhaus strictures into a new original, organic style, replacing steel with wood, and creating a warm, [cozy] atmosphere for the reader, wrote Echikson.
“Together, these initiatives demonstrate our commitment and confidence in Finland,” he wrote. “This is a hard time for the country, with growth slowing and unemployment rising. At the same time, our Hamina data center keeps expanding and Internet infrastructure represent an important ray of economic hope. As this project demonstrates, we are committed to the country and are delighted to use the Internet to promote Finnish culture.”
The Google Cultural Institute is involved in many efforts to bring history alive for online viewers around the world.
In July, the renovation and rebirth of England’s Bletchley Park, which during World War II served as the home of a historic code-breaking center that helped bring about the eventual Allied victory in 1945, was featured in an online exhibit. After the war, the facility was left to decay and rot. Now, through the help and contributions of Google and others, Bletchley Park is undergoing a renaissance and has become a museum that is showing off the code-breaking technologies that were done there and that helped win the war.
Exhibits in the museum at Bletchley Park are available online through the Google Cultural Institute. The digital exhibit features material from Bletchley Park’s Archives, providing a vivid snapshot of the work that went on cracking secret messages and the role it played in shortening the war, according to Google.
In June, Google’s Cultural Institute commemorated the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion on the Normandy coast in France with a series of special online exhibits to illustrate the emotions, power and destruction of an epic and successful World War II battle that likely changed the course of the war. The online exhibits include an in-depth look into the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944, featuring some 470 new documents and images.
The Google Cultural Institute, established in 2010 to help preserve and promote culture online, make important cultural material available and accessible to everyone, and digitally preserve it to educate and inspire future generations, has been actively adding to its growing collections.
In April 2014, the Institute began offering virtual tours of the opulent Palais Garnier opera house in Paris using Google Street View images to showcase the beautiful and grand opera house, which has been hosting performances since it opened in 1875.
Also in April, the Institute helped to highlight the U.S civil rights movement through a fascinating online collection of documents, photographs and film clips in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Among the highlights of the online collection is an emotionally worded telegram from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to President Kennedy from June 1963, as well as a personal request to meet with Kennedy on the day of the March on Washington in August 1963 from one of the march organizers. Also included is a copy of The Civil Rights Act of 1964 itself. The collection, with its photos, documents and other content, is moving as it describes and recreates the turmoil of the nation during the period, which also included the assassination of President Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963.
A “Women in Culture” project was launched by the Institute in March 2014 that tells the stories of known and unknown women who have impacted our world to commemorate International Women’s Day.