Women Artists

The Practical Side of Modernism – Aino Aalto

Joanna Kaszubowska 15 November 2023 min Read

Aino Marsio-Aalto was a Finnish architect and designer. She was also the wife of Alvar Aalto, which might be why you haven’t heard about her. The couple worked closely together, to the point where now it is very difficult to distinguish Aino’s work from Alvar’s. In the first half of the 20th century, it was very difficult for a woman to become an architect with an independent office, hence the Aalto couple worked as partners. Times may have changed, but the fame of Zaha Hadid still feels more like an exception than a rule.

Despite being less known than her husband, Aino Aalto was a very active designer. She and Alvar often cooperated, with Aino focusing on interior design. However, they also competed, taking part in the same competitions, especially when while working together on a submission they ended up with different variants of the project.

Aino Aalto and Alvar Aalto, Villa Mairea, 1938-1939, Noormarkku, Finnland. Nordic Home.
Aino Aalto and Alvar Aalto, Villa Mairea, 1938-1939, Noormarkku, Finland. 

In 1935 the Aalto’s and Maire Gullichsen and Nils Gustav-Hahl founded Artek. The company produced furniture and interior accessories. Aino became the Design Director and with time the Managing Director of the company, effectively running the business. Artek exists to this day, owned by a private company, check out their website.

Artek, Booth at Salone Milan 2018. Photo by Eduardo Perez.
Artek, Booth at Salone Milan 2018. Photo by Eduardo Perez.

One of the most famous buildings the Aalto’s worked on together is Villa Mairea in Noormarkku, built for Maire Gullichsen (the co-founder of Artek). Aino designed the interiors, that work perfectly with the architecture. Both believed in a concept of a Gesamtkunstwerk, a complete work of art. They did not limit their work only to architecture but considered every aspect of life, down to the smallest detail.

Aino Aalto and Alvar Aalto, Villa Mairea, Noormarkku, 1938-1939. Photo by Johanna Kokkola.
Aino Aalto and Alvar Aalto, Villa Mairea, 1938-1939, Noormarkku, Finland. Photo by Johanna Kokkola.

Aino’s most famous project indicated her focus on the practical aspect of design while retaining a very strong sensitivity to nature. The collection of glassware, called Bölgeblick, was inspired by the rings a stone makes when thrown into the water. At the same time, you can also stack the glasses for easier storage. I am sure they look familiar to many of you, they are still sold by iittala, and even IKEA sells glasses inspired by Aino’s design.

Aino Marsio-Aalto, Bölgeblick, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK.
Aino Marsio-Aalto, Bölgeblick, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK.

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