The Aalto Vase (also known as the Savoy Vase) is a world famous piece of glassware and an iconic piece of Finnish design created by Alvar Aalto and his wife Aino. - Picture: Visit Finland Media Bank
During the past 150 years design has shaped Finnish culture and national identity.
Finnish design is known for clean lines, practicality and timeless minimalism, although young designers can be surprisingly playful.
Helsinki has been awarded City of Design status for using design in order to build a better city.
THE FAMOUS Finnish design had its significant starting point at the turn of the 20th century – in art nouveau – when the architecture, the visual arts, and the applied arts lay at the heart of the burgeoning national culture.
Key designers were architects such as Herman Gesellius, Armas Lindgren, and Eliel Saarinen, partners, who designed Helsinki railway station and the National Museum, and multi-talented artists like Akseli Gallen-Kallela.
At the 1900 Paris World Exposition, Finland mounted its own national pavilion for the first time and attracted wide attention.
Examples of the applied arts included furniture by Akseli Gallen-Kallela, along with his ryijy rug, entitled Flame, a pioneering work of Finnish textile design.
The Iris ceramics factory exhibited wares made out of Finnish red-burning clay designed in an Art Nouveau idiom.
Enduring classics of Modernism
The earliest and still working companies in the field of the applied arts were the Arabia ceramics factory (founded in 1873), and Nuutajärvi glass factory (founded in 1794).
In 1928 Riihimäen Lasi organised a glass design competition.
The winning designer, Henry Ericsson already shows the clean lines of modernism.
The work of the 1930s, from furniture and everyday wares to graphic design, was characterised by natural use of materials, unadorned surfaces, and bright primary colours.
The young architect Alvar Aalto was particularly responsive to the modern rigours of Functionalism and designed light bentwood chairs, tables and shelves that became enduring classics of Modernism.
In 1935 the Artek Company was set up in Helsinki, to produce and disseminate Aalto’s furniture, which had become popular abroad.
The company is still going strong. Today, the Artek collection includes products by other designers as well.
Together with his wife Aino, Alvar Aalto was also an important glass designer.
In 1932 Aino Aalto designed her Aalto glassware series, and in 1936 Alvar Aalto created his Savoy vase, by far the best-known example of Finnish design internationally.
Another modern classic by Alvar Aalto is the Artek Stool 60, a three-legged stool that has been copied endlessly.
Aalto’s life and art is celebrated in a comprehensive exhibition at the Ateneum Art Museum in 2017.
The exhibition is part of the programme for the centenary of Finland’s independence.