Aalto Sites – Part 1

While researching the Alvar Alto before my recent visit to Helsinki I discovered AALTOsites, an app I could download on to my phone that would help me locate buildings by the architect in the city – there’s quite a few of them. So I downloaded it onto my phone and used it to find a number of the buildings during the short time I had available for exploring. It provided an interesting focus for my visit.

The Academic Bookstore, part of the Stockman Department store but in a separate building, which was completed in 1969, was just over the road from my hotel. From the outside it looked like a Modernist office building with a facade of windows glazed with reflective glass set in dark grey concrete. I thought it was quite attractive.



But it’s the inside of the building which makes it rather special. Aalto created a light, airy atrium three floors deep with two levels of balconies, lit from above by angular prism shaped skylights and with white Carrara marble walls.



This cross section of the building, from here, shows the relationship of the atrium to the building. Note that there are a number of underground levels

The Academic Bookstore


A great place to browse for books (providing you can read Finnish!). There’s also a café (Café Aalto) on the first level balcony.

Just around the corner there’s an earlier work, the Rautatalo building from 1951, built for the Finnish hardware dealers’ federation. Today it’s occupied by some expensive shops and offices of the Nordea bank. Again, the facade is glazed with reflective glass set in copper coloured concrete. The first floor has larger windows.



Looking on the Alvar Aalto’s Architecture website I could see that inside there’s an atrium with balconies lit by skylights.

'Rautatalo' commercial building

This striking building stands at the far end of the Market Square, at the start of the Katajanokanlaituri peninsula just below the Russian Orthodox Cathedral. Locals refer to it as the “Sugar Cube”


It was built to serve as the head office for the Enso-Gutzeit company.

The main facade faced with white Carrara marble, is divided up into squares. Each square contains a window and vent surrounded by an inward-slanting marble frame.



This rather curious little structure located on a traffic island oppostie the Swesish Theatre was Aalto’s first commission in Helsinki. It was designed as the entrance to an emergency air raid shelter. Today it’s used as  the entrance to an underground car park.



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