Designing with nature: an interpretation of the legacy of Eliel Saarinen, Alvar Aalto, and Reima Pietilä

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Architecture constructed in the Nordic countries has often been regarded as having a special affinity with nature. This has been linked to the use of natural materials and to the way built structures are connected with their environment. This connection has also been described in language that emphasizes the mysterious qualities of Northern nature. However, such descriptions may often be too simple to provide an adequate interpretation of the constructed environment. At the same time, they could be used to say something about the process of architectural creation. If so, are the descriptions related to the way architects themselves explain their design process? Indeed, architects may have emphasized mysterious or intuitive qualities in the process of creating their designs. Design processes are both individual and collectively similar, with the contexts being both unique and landscape-specific at the same time. Universality is thus intertwined with the place-specificity of architecture, for example in the work of Finnish twentieth-century architects from Eliel Saarinen to Alvar Aalto and Reima Pietilä. This article examines interpretative texts emphasizing nature in the work of these well-known architects. They are juxtaposed with the architects’ own texts describing their design process. The comparison sheds light on the constructed narrative of one specific aspect of Nordic architecture, while raising questions of individuality and universality in the architectural design process.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNorthernness
EditorsAnne Elisabeth Toft, Magnus Rönn
Number of pages29
ISBN (Electronic)978-91-983797-6-1
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2022
Publication typeA4 Article in conference proceedings
EventNAF/NAAR Symposium and Annual Symposium of Architectural Research - Oulu, Finland
Duration: 22 Oct 202023 Oct 2020

Publication series

NameThe NAAR Proceedings Series
ISSN (Print)2535-4523


ConferenceNAF/NAAR Symposium and Annual Symposium of Architectural Research


  • design process, nature, Finnish architecture

Publication forum classification

  • Publication forum level 1


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