A towering figure of Modernist architecture, Alvar Aalto began his career in the ‘20s in what was then the newly-independent nation of Finland, helping define the style and aesthetic reputation of the rising Scandinavian nation. Aalto’s architectural creations, as well as his lighting, furniture and glassware, were total works of art, often Expressionist in style, imbued with a keen awareness for those who would live and work inside. "God created paper for the purpose of drawing architecture on it,” he said. “Everything else is at least for me an abuse of paper." His confidence wasn’t misplaced, at least as far as his fellow countrymen were concerned. In the mid-50s, Finnair would supposedly delay departing flights until the great Aalto was on board, who himself would delay arriving at the airport to bask in the attention.
The career of “Alvar Aalto, Architect and Monumental Artist,” as he billed himself at one of his early offices, began in earnest in the ‘20s, when he began writing about architecture (often under the nom de plume Remus), constructed classical homes and married Aino Marsio, whom would become a valued and frequent collaborator until her death in 1949. A series of commissions in the later half of the decade (Viipuri Library, the Turun Sanomat Building and the Paimio Sanatorium) were both a creative catalysts and the beginnings of his turn towards a more personal take on Modernism. But Aalto work didn’t end with buildings. He also applied his creative drive to furniture, co-founding Artek in 1935 and creating the iconic Savoy Vase in 1937 for the Helsinki cafe of the same name in 1937.
His Finnish pavilion at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York (which came in the wake of a Parisian pavilion in 1937 and an exhibit at MOMA) was considered “genius” by the none-too-modest Frank Lloyd Wright. It cemented his status among the architectural firmament, earning him commissions and awards across the world, where he would focus during his later years, designing an array of acclaimed public buildings.