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The Practical Side of Modernism – Aino Marsio-Aalto

Women Artists

The Practical Side of Modernism – Aino Marsio-Aalto

Aino Marsio-Aalto was a Finnish architect and designer, she was also the wife of Alvar Aalto, which is why you may not have heard about her. They worked very closely together, to a point where now it is very difficult to unpick 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 Aalto’s worked as a partnership. 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, Noormarkku, 1938-9

In 1935 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, phot. Eduardo Perez

One of the most famous buildings 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 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, 1938-9, phot. Johanna Kokkola

Aino’s most famous project indicated her focus on the practical aspect of design while retaining 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, V&A Collections


Learn more or buy Aino’s Bölgeblick 🙂

Aino Aalto: forgotten master of architecture, recording of the talk at Royal Academy London

Modernism and the natural world – the designs of Alvar and Aino Aalto

The End of Lone Genius – Modern Couples: Art, Intimacy and the Avant-garde


Art historian by education, data geek by trade, art and book lover by passion, based in London in love with Europe and travelling around it. You can visit my book blog here:


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