Aug 27–Sep 26, 2022

Architect Elissa Aalto

Jorma Eton tie 8 A, Rovaniemi 96100
Opening hours
Mon-Sat 12 am-6 pm

The architect Elissa Aalto (1922−1994) did her life’s work in Alvar Aalto’s architect’s office. She was his second wife and a colleague, who over the years became his coworker and an interpreter and mediator of his ideas. Following Aalto’s death, she led the architect’s office in 1976−1994, bringing several unfinished building projects to completion. Elissa Aalto dedicated her life to carrying on Alvar Aalto’s work and to fostering his material and intellectual heritage. In 2022 it is 100 years since the birth of the architect Elissa Aalto. This exhibition opens a window onto her life’s work, her private and public role at Alvar Aalto’s side, and onto the time after Alvar. Exhibition is on display at Lappia Hall (address Jorma Eton tie 8 A, FI-96100 Rovaniemi) 27.8−26.9.2022.

In 2022 it is 100 years since the birth of Alvar Aalto’s second architect wife, Elissa Aalto. To commemorate the occasion the Alvar Aalto Foundation has produced Architect Elissa Aalto, a touring exhibition of the life’s work of this gifted, determined designer. The exhibition makes its debut at Lappia Hall, Rovaniemi, on 25.8–26.9.2022, and will then go on to tour Alvar Aalto cities around Finland. It sheds light on Elissa Aalto’s public and private role in the everyday life of Alvar Aalto’s architect’s office and alongside her famous architect husband.

The mayor of Rovaniemi, Ulla-Kirsikka Vainio, is delighted to say this exhibition marks a new opportunity to show Alvar and Elissa Aalto’s life’s work and contribution to the development of Rovaniemi’s cityscape: “Aalto’s architecture is central to the day-to-day life of our city. The architecturally unique area around the Administrative and Cultural Centre that glows with Arctic light offers citizens a precious, pleasant place to meet, for which we also have to thank the continuer of Alvar Aalto’s life’s work, Elissa Aalto.”

Born in Kemi in 1922, Elissa Aalto (née Elsa Kaisa Mäkiniemi) graduated as an architect in 1949. She began working in Alvar Aalto’s architect’s office in the autumn of that same year, when it was working on some sizeable public commissions and several architecture competitions in Finland and abroad. As her responsibilities grew, Elissa was made supervising architect on a number of major building projects, the first being Säynätsalo Town Hall (1949–52). In between working, Alvar Aalto took a liking to his positive, vivacious co-worker, and their courtship led to marriage in 1952.

From the 1950s onwards, Elissa Aalto led the construction of the campus of Jyväskylä College of Education (now the University of Jyväskylä, 1951–71) and, being fluent in French, was put in charge of the building project for Maison Louis Carré (1956–65), a private house near Paris. She became a partner in Alvar Aalto Architects early on. In the following decades, Elissa Aalto was closely involved in the construction of the Nordic House culture centre (1962−68) in Reykjavik, Iceland, and in the interior design of the Finlandia Hall concert and congress centre (1962–75) on the shores of Töölönlahti Bay in Helsinki. Over the years, she developed into a skilled interpreter and mediator of Alvar Aalto’s ideas, a role that was accentuated when maintaining contacts during construction projects.

Elissa Aalto’s own architecture output was to be relatively small. Projects known to be her own, independent designs include the SOS Children’s Village in Tapiola, Espoo (1964–65) and the Villa Hauta-aho (1982–83) private house in Seinäjoki. In the 1950s, she made printed-fabric designs for Artek, such as H55, Pisa and Patio, in which architectural elements were playfully incorporated into geometrical shapes.