maison louis-carré 2012 1
Ahhhh, Aalto! Even in the later years of the practice, when a surplus of commissions and an advancing alcohol problem kept the master from giving each project his all, there are still gems.
This was my third visit to the house. The 2008 photos begin here; the 2010 photos are still negatives in a binder, and anyway nothing much changes: the house is amazing on basically every level, so what can you really say?
This year, with so much additional Aalto under our belts, Jackie attempted to get a conversation started comparing this to Villa Mairea, and more generally, the meaning of doing "organic modernism" in 1956 versus 1936. The discussion went in several different directions, but the most interesting angle for me was the feeling, shared by some of students, that this house is fabulous - almost too fabulous. Comparing it to Villa Mairea, Wes in particular missed the "experimental" and "choppy" quality of the earlier building. Was this, in other words, too easy for Aalto? Was he coasting on his earlier investigations, which at that time were necessary and crucial explorations of a language and were now a style-by-numbers?
Well. I don't know. Most of us would be pretty satisfied to design such a house, at any point in time. And, as Cadwell once remarked to us, "these architects, they get to a certain age, and they realize - - - this is the only thing they know how to do." Would we ask Mozart not to compose?
Anyway, I'm actually not entirely convinced this is Aalto playing by the numbers. To the extent that it reconstitutes his 1930s vocabulary, it also transforms it: yes, the weirdness and the "choppiness" are gone, and that means this is actually in a different style, a brilliant white Mediterranean cottage married to Finnish carpentry. The bold roofline looks nothing like the Functionalist Aalto - it's much more Säynätsalo - and the gestural completion of the line of the hillside is a more convincing connection to landscape than basically anything else he built. The wervy ceiling inside is an Aalto trademark, yes, but, as Tyler K. pointed out, it's used smartly to imply circulation and adjust in scale from public to private functions. It's only the interior details, in fact, that feel like they could have appeared in an Aalto house of twenty years earlier...but so what? The comfortable, approachable quality of Aalto's interiors was probably the best reason to hire him as a domestic architect, and in fact he was chosen for this job over Le Corbusier because of the latter's perceived "coldness."
In short, this doesn't feel "easy" so much as it does "confident." There are plenty of ways in which this building does involve some leaps of faith by the architect, the certainty of looking at the drawing board, seeing a combination of elements you haven't really tried before, and saying, "This will work." It does, beautifully.
(The other major arc of the discussion had to do with the general project of building gorgeous houses for rich people, particularly relevant since our next stop was to be Versailles. I can't say I have much to add to this: Mairea was also for rich people, capitalists in fact, and so the comparison doesn't really get anywhere unless you either dismiss Mairea, or insist that you're not selling out if you're using the client to conduct aesthetic experiments. The latter is a bit vague as arguments go, and anyway, as I've argued above, there are experimental aspects of Louis-Carré that render the argument moot.)
(Note, this is being posted somewhat out of sequence owing to a formatting glitch in my timeline file. It's roughly contemporary with the Hansaviertel apartments, the Wolfsburg Kulturhaus, and the Heilig-Geist Church. It should have followed directly after National Pensions.)