The Community Center at Säynätsalo by Alvar Aalto

The work of Finnish architect Alvar Aalto has long been a source of inspiration for me. His buildings have a comfortable, humane quality to them because he paid close attention to the little details that made the ordinary into something special. If nothing else, this alone is a lesson worth learning well.

To date, I have only been able to visit two of his buildings in person - the library at Mount Angel Abbey in Oregon and the Nordic House in Reykjavik, Iceland. One day I hope to visit the town hall and community center he designed in the town of Säynätsalo in central Finland, his vacation home on the island of Muuratsalo and the university buildings in nearby Jyväskylä. For now, I’ll take pleasure in this is excellent short documentary Säynätsalo and Muuratsalo.

For additional reading on the unique perspective Aalto brought to human-centered architectural design, consider reading this thoughtful essay by Sarah Williams Goldhagen entitled “Ultraviolet: Alvar Aalto’s Embodied Rationalism.”

Ambiguous Existence

Ambiguous Existence

The late works of Swedish architect Sigurd Lewerentz have inspired us for a long time, especially his church design for St. Petri in Klippan. Perhaps initially appearing as a dark and foreboding, the dense structure creates a space of meditative calm and repose - ideal conditions for focusing on the profundities of human life.

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Brought into Existence

Scott M B Gustafson's Graduation Address at Commencement

May 15 1999 . College of Architecture, Planning and Design . Kansas State University

Published here on the occasion of the 20 year anniversary of graduation.

Through the course of our education here at Kansas State University, we have been engaged in a two part course. On the one side are the facts, our education is comprised of an understanding of architectural history, the social and political forces which shaped the built environment through time and the technical knowledge related to the construction of such buildings. The corresponding half to our education is the search for architecture through our designs, training the mind to see. The creation of architecture is not automatic or self-evident like the making of a hamburger. Design Studio enables us to coalesce these diverse aspects acquired into buildings. Architecture is at its broadest and most general level a concern about building. However, in school we have not made buildings, we produce models and drawings of an idea for a building. We have been furnished with the tools to find an architecture of our own making, those spaces that have not yet been brought into existence.

This notion of architecture's influence as a built reality gained the most relevance for me a few years ago during a road trip to Ohio I took with Shawn Gehle and John Pitman to see some recent projects by Peter Eisenman. They say that architects always take the strangest vacations, opting for a trip through the countryside on a rainy day to see an obscure house, or wishing to get to New York while their friends and family look to the beaches of Florida. We were each familiar with the buildings through the drawings and photos we had seen in the journals and magazines. However, the experience of seeing these buildings with our own eyes demystified the glossy aura of the magazines and put the work in a human context, revealing the qualities of everyday life such as use, time and material.

Our professors have given us plenty and put us through a lot, but they have not made us architects, and passing the licensing exam alone is not enough to make us architects either. Through a continued search to combine the needs and aspirations of people into a constructed form, we will become architects and our buildings works of architecture.