MIT Institute Archives & Special Collections

Telegram from Aalto

Page 1 of Telegram from Alvar Aalto
Page 2 of Telegram from Alvar Aalto

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Alvar Aalto
Alvar Aalto at work, late 1940's
Photograph in Institute Archives and
Special Collections, MIT

In 1958 Alvar Aalto, Finland's leading architect, sent a telegram to John Burchard, Dean of MIT's School of Humanities and Social Science, declining to express an architectural philosophy. Burchard, whose background was in architecture, was Aalto's personal friend as well as a colleague.

Aalto had agreed to visit MIT as a Research Professor of Architecture in the fall of 1940. At the behest of his government he returned suddenly to Finland in October 1940 to head a national reconstruction program to build housing for Finns displaced by the war. He returned to MIT from 1945 to 1951. Aalto's most tangible achievement while at the Institute was Baker House, an undulating dormitory on Memorial Drive, overlooking the Charles River. The dorm was completed in 1949.

Aalto was noted for his affinity with and sensitive use of natural materials, including bricks. He was drawn to open space, natural light, and sculptural shapes. Unconcerned with abstract architectural theory, he developed a design for each project after careful observation and immersion in the individual characteristics of the site.

Books, correspondence, and other documents relating to Aalto and to Baker House are available for research in several of the MIT Libraries, including the Institute Archives and Special Collections. Materials available in the Archives range from the amusing (Mrs. Frank Lloyd Wright's telegram about Aalto's delayed arrival at MIT: "Mr. Wright took him to Minneapolis Monday afternoon their whereabouts at the moment are unknown...") to the serious (School of Architecture Dean William Wurster to Alvar Aalto: "Moreland and Compton both tried to make out that artificially lighted corridors are as good as daylighted ones!"). Memos and drawings relating to Baker House are complemented by personal and professional communications between Aalto and members of the MIT administration.

Object of the Month: October 1999

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