A continuing theme in the work of Alvar Aalto’s collaborator Eric Adlercreutz – the pattern of centralized spaces

Miguel Borges de Araújo

Working paper
Alvar Aalto Researchers Network 2012


Architect Eric Adlercreutz (Helsinki, 1935) started his practice in 1961 with the Villa in Tammisaari, which he later renovated as part of the well-known project of the Motel Marine. He has built in various types and scales, with an interest in collective housing. He has also worked directly on Alvar Aalto's buildings, in the Studio restoration (2002), the complementary hall for the Helsinki University of Technology (2008), and other examples. His work is here discussed however, after his collaboration with Aalto between 1959-65, which is, as an example of my broader investigation on the architecture of Alvar Aalto's collaborators.

The production from this period of the studio, so influential for the revision of the modern, can be considered a difficult example, compared with the clear-cut and almost didactic work of the 1930s. The later buildings open the scope of necessity to a relation with site and tradition, and use the previous experience to refine detail and style. As a consequence, they've gained a reputation (in my opinion, exaggerated) of individual or irrational architecture. That, by the same time, Aalto gave up to discuss his options, only increased this perception.
Adlercreutz has compared this situation to a "black box". In such cases, an analytical eye is a way to gain a positive distance, to return with a better understanding of how the master constructed the masterpiece. After leaving Aalto's studio, Adlercreutz studied in Berkeley (US), in Christopher Alexander's Pattern Language course. Has this experience contributed to sharpen his analytical eye?

Adlercreutz himself has measured this influence in lectures and writings. Alexander tells that the old built environment has a timeless quality which can't be matched by modern design, an argument which gets its strength for having resulted from his previous research on functionalism and complexity. The concept of pattern expresses this dialectic: both mechanism and empirical observation. The corollary of the theory was reopening the relation with tradition as a long and collective experiment – a critical outlook to many of the themes in Aalto's architecture: the human scale, the flexible standard, the vernacular, etc.
Adlercreutz has also tried A Pattern Language in practice. Most patterns describe provoking problems. Forming strings of various patterns using the hyper-text structure of the manual is difficult, but rewarding: in the best cases, the project starts with all the scales well knotted, rather than separated in top-down steps.

Thus, I'm convinced that the main shortcoming of the theory precedes this operative level. It lies perhaps in the contradiction between the admiration for an open, organic ideal and the tendency for universal, completed solutions. From this stance, the practical example offered by Aalto's architecture seems more influential and more inspiring for renewal. I'll try to suggest some lines of continuity between Adlercreutz and Aalto's architecture.


Adlercreutz, Multi-service center (model), 1968. Photo by Eric Adlercreutz.

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Miguel Borges de Araújo
Architect, Doctoral Student