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Topology in the Architecture of Alvar Aalto

Gevork Hartoonian & Nugroho Utomo

Working paper
Alvar Aalto Researchers Network 2012

Abstract

Having roots in geometry and mathematics, the term topology attained a topical dimension in Reyner Banham’s definition of New Brutalism. What concerns topology is not the form, shape or the brutal texture of a building, but the way architecture relates to both its site and its own structure. In reference to Alvar Aalto’s architecture and its rapport with the Finnish landscape, topology provides an alternative interpretation of the classical notion of order and geometry which has implications on the way Aalto’s architecture is theorised.

Starting with this definition of topology, the essay will make an attempt to evoke a constructed landscape wherein Aalto’s architecture is discussed in reference to the vertical posture permeating his work. Most research on Aalto’s architecture highlights the architectonic and formal consequences of the horizontality associated with the Finnish landscape. Whereas such reflections on the place of landscape in Aalto’s work are confined to naturalism tout court, this essay will discuss certain topological aspects of two of his major projects, the Seinäjoki Town Hall (1958-87) and the Auditorium at the Helsinki University of Technology in Otaniemi (1953-66).

The vertical posture informing the design of these two buildings is suggestive of the ways that Aalto would transform the image of the landscape-forest into tectonic forms, one major consequence of which was to surpass the structural rationalist discourse on the subject. It will be argued that the alleged vertical posture, itself emerging out of the design’s tectonic articulation of Semperian earth-work and frame-work, reveals topology in reference to landscape in the case of the Auditorium and landform at the Town Hall. The aim is to discuss the significance of landscape in Aalto’s architecture in light of contemporary interpretations of topology.

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Gevork Hartoonian
Professor
gevork.hartoonian(at)canberra.edu.au

University of Canberra, Faculty of Arts and Design, Australia

Topology in the Architecture of Alvar Aalto

Nugroho Utomo
PhD candidate
nugroho.utomo(at)canberra.edu.au

University of Canberra, Faculty of Arts and Design, Australia

Topology in the Architecture of Alvar Aalto