Artifact vs. Nature: A Study of Aalto’s proposal for the Palace of Nations in Geneva

Ursula Koren

Working paper
Alvar Aalto Researchers Network 2012 


The proposed argument which has been illustrated in the occasion of the first Alvar Aalto research conference is a part of a doctoral thesis which has been undertaken at the IUAV University in Venice.

The particularity of a PhD in Architectural Composition is that the research is based on one hand on a historical approach and on the other hand on a more specific architects’ point of view. This point of view is illustrated by the interpretation of drawings and models produced by the researcher. The result is a study where the drawings are used to enlighten the theoretical questions and vice versa.

The researches that we carry on in Venice deal with the work of masters of the twentieth century. We believe that the profound knowledge of their architecture can give us the possibility to understand better our time and to gain a new point of departure for our work as architects, especially today, when no specific theory or direction seems to prevail.

Our time is also the time of rethinking of man’s relationship to nature. And in this perspective a study of Aalto’s architecture becomes very promising. Although his opus has been widely studied and a lot of interesting arguments have been pointed out during the last decades, some parts of his work still lay in obscurity and some of the questions regarding his work need a constantly renewed point of view.  

One of the questions that has never been exhausted and where the analysis of architectural composition can give a valid insight, is how did Alvar Aalto create architectural landscape, how did he “invent” places or how did he make possible to rediscover their beauty? In the broader context of the research, the question about the “invention of the place” in Aalto’s architecture becomes a demonstration of the relationship between what is found on the site and what is added to it. It aims to describe the theoretical basis of this approach as well as its practical possibilities in the contemporary practice.

Aalto’s proposal for the Palace of Nations in Geneva. Reconstruction of the view from the park, drawing by Ursula Koren.

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Ursula Koren
Ph.D. candidate

Università IUAV di Venezia - Dottorato di ricerca in Composizione architettonica, Italy

Artifact vs. Nature: A Study of Aalto’s proposal for the Palace of Nations in Geneva