Obituary: Elissa Aalto

Elsa Kaisa (Elissa) Makiniemi, architect: born Kemi, Finland 22 November 1922; married 1952 Alvar Aalto (died 1976); died Helsinki 12 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.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Reach Volunteering: Chair and trustees sought for YMCA Bolton

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Bolton YMCA is now a...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor