Alvar Aalto

As a practice, and as studio tutors, we hold close teaching links with academia and benefit hugely from exposure to research trips and focused areas of architectural study. At the University of Strathclyde, Year 4 students embark on an annual academic pilgrimage to follow the footsteps of a master and in doing so develop a greater understanding of architecture at a much higher level than they previously knew.

Form must have a content, and that content must be linked with nature. Alvar Aalto

In 2016 we visited the works of a 20th Century master architect. Synonymous with not only Finnish architecture but Finland – The works of Alvar Aalto.


Over a 5 day period, chasing across 5 cities, we were at luxury to visit and record 33 of Aalto’s buildings. As architects we are compelled to study, read and examine the works of the greats. We try our best to interpret their conceptual ideas from afar, their abilities to construct, their manipulation of proportion, space and form. But nothing quite surpasses the immersive quality of walking through and experiencing great buildings first hand.

As a means of recording observations, and importantly personal reflection, the practice directors produced a series of images, drawings and ideas that have now formed the beginnings of an office catalogue of architectural investigation, thinking’s and references for the practice.

Alvaro Aalto was always compelled to begin his lectures with a description of his context and his origins in the Nordic night lands. He would always point out that Finland has approximately 200,000 lakes, 80,000 islands and 70% of its land has been almost consistently covered in dense forest.

Finland has a constant dialogue between land & water and land & forest. Throughout Aalto’s work there are strong juxtapositions of horizontal and vertical characteristic, similar to that of the landscape. Bold horizontal stratification of the overall massing, Ideas of abstract imaginary of mountains or folding hills and insistent forest-like vertical divisions to facades all bear resemblance to the Finnish context.

Aalto never explicitly stated that his buildings were abstractions of the landscape. However, he did talk about avoiding artificial architectural rhythms and believed that a building should have harmony and finely tuned nuanced relationship with its surroundings.

As an output and celebration of the trip, McGinlay Bell produced a small exhibition to mark the Architecture Schools end of year degree show. Rather than a typical exhibition, which seeks to document the plans, sections, elevations and models for examination. This exhibition’s aim was to look at individual details, compositions and silhouettes in photograph form, and produce a series of bloggable ‘instagram’ images. These have then been reflected on through diagrammatic sketches and interpretive plaster cast models which extract the key ideas underpinning Aalto’s work.

This exhibition was curated by McGinlay Bell, and completed with the help of Year 4 students Alexander Awramenko and Ross Cameron. A special mention also goes to Year 4 Convenor David Charles Reat for organising the entire trip with military precision.