Obituary: Elissa Aalto
Saturday 23 April 1994
ELISSA AALTO was the wife and partner of the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. After 1949 she assisted in all competition projects that his office undertook and after his death in 1976 she managed the office in Munkkiniemi, Helsinki, herself, and took over the chairmanship of Artek, the design and furniture company he had started in the 1920s. She championed his work, completed his unfinished projects and defended his completed projects against unwarranted alteration. She was a remarkable ambassador for Finnish architecture.
Elissa Aalto was born Elsa Makiniemi in 1922 in Kemi, north Finland. She went to school in Rovaniemi and qualified as an architect in Helsinki, in 1949. In the same year she gained a post in Alvar Aalto's office. And in the same year Aalto's first wife, the architect Aino Marsio, had died. Aalto married Elsa Makiniemi, 24 years his junior, in 1952.
Aalto's international reputation was already well established. Elissa joined him on his travels round the world and shared with him his enormous workload. As he got older, their collaboration grew closer and she undertook more and more of the executive work of his practice. The many projects she managed after his death included the University of Jyvaskyla in Finland, a Danish art museum in Alborg, a housing estate in Lucerne, Switzerland, churches in Lahti, Finland, and in Risla, Italy, and the celebrated Maison Carre at Bazoches-sur-Guyonne, in France.
Several Finnish towns are famous for their Aalto buildings, and even after his death they sought to enhance their reputation. So they turned to Elissa Aalto. She took care of such exacting projects as the theatre buildings in Seinajoki and Jyvaskyla. She looked after the building of the Town Hall in Rovaniemi in 1988 - a project particularly close to her heart. Rovaniemi, where she was brought up, had suffered serious damage in the Second World War. During the same period, and after years of difficulties, she finished the Opera House in Essen, Germany, a project initiated in 1959.
The continuing of Alvar Aalto's work involved, too, renovation and maintenance work on his buildings. This proved over the years to be demanding and, occasionally, frustrating, especially when suggested changes paid no respect to Aalto's original thinking. A heated dispute took place over plans to replace the marble in the walls of the Finlandia House. The Helsinki city authorities proposed that the expensive marble be changed for granite. Elissa Aalto fought strenuously against the idea until the building was given protected status.
The office of Alvar Aalto & Co in Helsinki saw a constant flow of foreign visitors, architects and students interested in Aalto's work. One of Elissa Aalto's services to future generations was to hand over the collection of Aalto's drawings to an 'Alvar Aalto Foundation', which makes the material available for the use of researchers.
Elissa Aalto was a modest person, who worked to the end. Two weeks before she died she had been discussing renovation plans for the historic library building at Viborg in Karelia, near the Russian border.
- 1 Frank Lampard's face drops when Holly Willoughby introduces him as a 'Man City legend'
- 2 'Do not give them a reason': Baltimore man divides police and rioters in hope of avoiding violence
- 3 X Factor in crisis as numbers of people auditioning plummets
- 4 Baltimore riots: Furious mother marches her son home live on TV
- 5 General Election 2015: Stephen Hawking says he will vote Labour
General Election 2015: Tories sack candidate who said she would never support 'the Jew' Ed Miliband
Bali Nine executions: Indonesia confirms killings of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran will go ahead
The four utterly contradictory polls that tell the story of this election and why it is pointless trying to predict the outcome
General Election 2015: Prospect of Labour-SNP coalition makes one in four voters less likely to support Ed Miliband, says survey
Baltimore riots: Furious mother marches her son home live on TV
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Aaron and Melissa Klein: Oregon anti-gay bakers ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to make cake for same-sex wedding
EU exit would hit UK economy much harder than neighbouring countries, study finds
Andrew Lloyd Webber: Phantom of the Opera writer mocked after issuing a warning about Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon
General election 2015: Labour will toughen hate crimes legislation surrounding Islamophobia
£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...
£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...