Wood and domestic architecture in Aalto’s work. Some influences on Portuguese Architecture.

Ana Isabel da Costa e Silva 

Working paper
Alvar Aalto Researchers Network 2012


This article proposes an interpretation of the portuguese experience on wooden architecture taking in account the concept of wrapping (Caters, 2007: 89) and the influence of Alvar Aalto's work in the portuguese architectural scene in the fifties and sixties of the XXth century. In that period, a conjunction of favourable factors drew the attention to the use of wood in Portuguese architecture such as the National Survey on Popular Architecture, the access to international magazines that gave particular attention to the Japanese and the Scandinavian realities, and the impact of a Portuguese architecture magazine, had followed the interest on looking ways outside the epicentre of modern architecture, which gives rise to what Kenneth Frampton called "Critical Regionalism". These factors contributed to a new look at traditional materials according to an approach that moves from the imitation of the vernacular building systems to treat- ing them as materia to a transformation process in order to produce an adequate space to contemporary man.

A "Vacation House" (1957-1959), in Ofir, by Fernando Távora (1923-2005), had a crucial contribution to this debate, as well as the "Boa Nova Tea House" (1958-1963), in Leça da Palmeira, by Álvaro Siza (n. 1933). This tendency generated a unique moment in the Portuguese architecture characterized by the coexistence of the generalized use of concrete and, at the same time, the integration of quality artisanal work such as carpentry.

Alongside with that national cultural ambiance resented in Portugal, Alvar Aalto's work gives, by that time, a particular importance to the use of traditional materials, particularly wood, as an interior and exterior coating element. In his works, particularly in the domestic building, Alvar Aalto used this material breaking the traditional use of wood in Finland (in a structural way) taking advantage of the material's expressive capacities in the space's conformation.

Considering the concept of architecture as wrapping, the starting point of Aalto architecture design is the human being, his emotions and the forms of natural elements (Aalto, 1940: 334), in the alignment of Gunnar Asplund practice. The material's role followed this alignment where the main goal was to find the quality of space to come up with the comfort of human beings. In order to establish a parallel between the portuguese architecture and the Aalto's contributions, we will engage a comparative analysis of Villa Mairea (1938- 39), in Noormarkku, the Aalto House and Studio (1935-1936), in Helsinki, both by Alvar Aalto and the "Vacation House", in Ofir, by Fernado Távora and the "Boa Nova Tea House" in Leça da Palmeira, by Álvaro Siza, taking in account the presence of wood in con- formation of the exterior form and in the characterization of an atmosphere on interior space.

Our study will then serve the purpose of discussing the particular use of wood in Aalto's domestic architecture, according to the con- cept of architecture as "wrapping" and associated to a "methodical accommodation to the circumstances", two key aspects of Alvar Aalto's practice, and its influence into the Portuguese production of erudite architecture in the late 1950s and in the early 1960s.

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Ana Isabel da Costa e Silva
Master Architect, PhD researcher

Faculty of Architecture of Oporto University (FAUP), Portugal
Study Centre of Architecture and Urbanism (CEAU) . Research Group ATLAS DA CASA

Wood and domestic architecture in Aalto’s work. Some influences on Portuguese Architecture.