Aalto’s ideas on air-conditioning - how Finland became a “Fanland”?

Seija Linnanmäki

Working paper
Alvar Aalto Researchers Network 2012

Alvar Aalto was interested in technical aspects of architecture: especially lighting, but also heating, acoustics, solar orientation and air conditioning.  Alvar Aalto’s career was extraordinary long and his commissions exceptionally diversified. During that long period of time from 1920s to 1970s many aspects of life changed: state and the socio-political situation, lifestyle, state capital and citizen’s personal wealth. Thus, in the 20th C also the people’s insistence for convenient and easy life widely led to implementation of technical innovations in buildings such as central heating, warm water and sewage systems, full mechanical air conditioning and vast use of electricity.


This study is focusing on the development of mechanical air conditioning in Finland from 1920s to 1960s, mostly through two cases of Alvar Aalto Vyborg Library (1927-1935) and National Pensions Institute (1953-1957). These buildings were heated and ventilated with two world famous systems, which later came to be characteristic for Modern Movement architecture also in Finland. The Library in Vyborg was heated with Crittall radiant ceiling heating system. The National Pensions Institute in Helsinki was mechanically ventilated with Carrier Weathermaster high velocity air conditioning system with fan coil units.
Mechanical and electrical services in buildings are a small and important piece of the history of technology. Today, in 2010s, nearly 100 per cent of new buildings in Finland are equipped with mechanical ventilation and heat recovery systems, public buildings also with cooling. This study is focusing on the early days of air conditioning on the time period, which was the start for Finland to became a “Fanland”.

Aalto’s architecture has been studied and published extensively, therefore, literature review computed as a method of research. In conservation plans and reports of Aalto’s buildings, mechanical and electrical services have been taken notice. Original letters, documents and drawings by Aalto are located in magnificent archives by Alvar Aalto Foundation and Museum in Jyväskylä and in Helsinki – I hope I would have been able to utilize those original resources more.


Vyborg Library interior. Grills for supply and exhaust ventilation dissipate into the smooth walls. Photo Seija Linnanmäki 2010.

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Seija Linnanmäki
Senior Advisor

National Board of Antiquities, Cultural Environment Protection
The Department of Architecture, Restoration Policy and Guidance
Helsinki, Finland

Aalto’s ideas on air-conditioning - how Finland became a “Fanland”?