The Aalto Residency Programme kicked off in September 2018 as an international residency programme for architecture and design. The location for the stay is at Alvar Aalto’s Town Hall, considered one of his masterpieces – a complete work of art or “gesamtkunstwerk”, where the old industrial community, the surrounding pine trees, and seamless interior design elements from light fittings to furniture and door handles, make up a unique combination and an inspiring environment for creative work. Alvar Aalto loved the area so well that he designed and built a summer house, Muuratsalo Experimental House, for his family only four kilometres away from Säynätsalo Town Hall.
Säynätsalo was consolidated into the city of Jyväskylä on 1993. Now owned by the current governing municipality of Jyväskylä, the protected building is not used for its original purpose anymore, and the city has actively pursued a new purpose for the building. The majority of spaces are now rented to Tavolo Bianco Oy, the company responsible for the Residency Programme in collaboration with the Alvar Aalto Foundation. Tavolo Bianco also provides the Town Hall guided tours, booking services for meetings and festivities, and accommodation for the abundance of foreign visitors during the peak season. The Town Hall Café is operated by AaBakery Ky.
A dynamic start to our Residency Programme
Our Residency Programme got a dynamic start with three applications arriving for the first residency period in September 2018 as soon as the application period started. As it happens, the applications were from National Institute of Technology, Akashi College, stemming from the visit of the College’s professor of architecture earlier in the summer. In early September, three young students of architecture arrived for their four week stay in Säynätsalo. Their programme included in-depth visits to buildings designed by Alvar Aalto in Jyväskylä, Muurame, Seinäjoki, Noormarkku, Kauttua and Paimio. Moreover, the students visited architectural points of interest in Helsinki and Petäjävesi, and also Tallinn in Estonia. The students interacted with the local community by assisting in the daily operation of the Town Hall, by participating in restoring the windows and doors of Aalto’s Muuratsalo Experimental House and by teaching origami paper art at the local school. Having only just started their studies, the programme didn’t involve a specific project on Alvar Aalto, design or architecture.
Vital support from Co-Operative Tradeka’s foundation
The Aalto Residency Programme was happy to receive positive news from Co-Operative Tradeka’s foundation in June regarding their decision to finance the stay of four foreign students. Immediately after receiving the news, we contacted selected persons at universities around the world, many of which were lecturers or professors who had visited Town Hall quite recently. The criteria included ability to act in a short notice, to gather students from different cultural backgrounds, and to recommend students as representatives of their educational institutions.
Despite the tight schedule, we received four applications from students recommended by their tutors. The selected students were two students from Kamla Raheja Institute of Architecture and Environmental Studies (KRVIA) in Mumbai, India, and two students from Harvard Graduate School of Design (DSG) in the United States. Lecturers from both educational institutions had visited Town Hall earlier in 2018, and their visit had convinced them of the opportunities the new Aalto Residency Programme could offer their students.
The travel costs to Säynätsalo needed to be paid by the students themselves, but all the other costs for accommodation at the Town Hall flats, work space, the Programme activities and basic meals were covered by Tradeka’s grant. Considering the total cost of living abroad for a month, along with the Programme fees, this constitutes a substantial support for any student. A system like this also allows for teachers to choose the ones who would benefit the most from the Programme – and who would in turn perhaps benefit the Aalto research – instead of the Programme being available only for those who could afford it independently.
Our October residents were almost full-fledged architects finishing their studies. Two of them were already working on their thesis, and two were busy finding a topic and inspiration for their own thesis for their final next year. Common interest in architecture and Aalto’s heritage soon connected the students during their trips to points of interest, when watching documentaries together and at the final seminar. However, each of them also enjoyed solitude in their work space at Town Hall, and when sketching and taking measurements along the halls and the Council Chamber. Finnish October treated the visitors quite gently, and the temperatures didn’t drop below zero until at the very end of their stay. Actually, it snowed on the last day of their residency, which was a treat! The hunt for Northern lights didn’t pay off, but other than that, the Residency and the Säynätsalo area was much appreciated in the feedback. The students were positively surprised by nature, silence, tranquility, cleanliness and the language skills of the locals. Even the local food was commended to a certain extent – and in return we had a chance to sense lovely wafts of Oriental cuisine in the timber and brick-clad halls of our Town Hall.
The students had valid suggestions for developing the Residency Programme. The visits to points of interest and the local guiding tours will need more resources and time in future, particularly for students who are more advanced in their studies. The Programme envisions accepting and inviting students and researchers to Säynätsalo to receive – and contribute – new knowledge and experiences about architecture, design and Alvar Aalto.
One of the main purposes of the Residency Programme is raising awareness of Finnish modern architecture and the heritage of Alvar Aalto. To this end, the Tradeka foundation has given some valuable support, and we hope for continued cooperation, perhaps in the form of similar student grants. Supporters like these will enable us to invite students with a passion for the same, important objectives as the Residency Programme!
The Residency Programme students supported by the Tradeka foundation finished their stay with a final seminar, ”Town Hall Table Talks”, available in Facebook: https://web.facebook.com/saynatsalotownhall/videos/486624471820242/
Residency student Khoa Vu, supported by the Tradeka foundation, summarising his thoughts about Säynätsalo Town Hall in YouTube: https://youtu.be/-A0k7XamHFw
Photos: © Harri Taskinen