Alvar Aalto library reworked by JKMM

Seinäjoki in Finland boasts seven buildings by modernist master Alvar Aalto - JKMM has just extended one
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Seinäjoki Library - Alvar Aalto /JKMM
Seinäjoki Library - Alvar Aalto /JKMM

For any Alvar Aalto aficionado, a tour of Seinäjoki is a must. The 60,000-strong town in east Finland is home to seven buildings by the country’s hero of modernism. They span from a 1926 staff building for the volunteer militia to a church, parish centre, town hall, state offices, library and theatre – the last of which was completed 11 years after his death in 1987.

And architects JKMM have just extended that 1967 library. Though one of the Helsinki studio’s quartet of founders, Asmo Jaaksi, admits with characteristic Nordic understatement that this was “not an easy place to build an extension”.

Indeed, many an architect has struggled with the ‘honour’ of adding to a landmark, in the knowledge that anything new is instantly going to rile the conservatives, while anything unchallenging will disappoint others. Jean Nouvel had a similar tussle in Madrid, with his blood-red extension to Madrid’s Reina Sofia National Museum Art Centre. And more recently but perhaps less successfully, Benthem Crouwel has expanded the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.

 

Seinäjoki Library - Alvar Aalto /JKMM
Seinäjoki Library - Alvar Aalto /JKMM

JKMM turned to material help for its solution. So while Aalto’s buildings are inevitably white, the walls and roofs are clad in copper. Inside it’s open-plan, with a tiered seating-and-meeting space.

One imagines it must be incredibly difficult for Finnish architects not to be burdened by the incredible legacy left by Aalto. “Sad to say, but I think the golden ages of Finnish design and architecture were the 1950s and 60s,” says Jaaksi. “That’s why we must search for momentum from Aalto’s heritage over and over again. On the other hand, Aalto was such a genius that he made something exceptionally great and lasting. But certainly we should also find something unprecedented and fresh.”

 

Seinäjoki Library - Alvar Aalto /JKMM
Seinäjoki Library - Alvar Aalto /JKMM

If you'd like to learn more about Aalto please consider our monograph. It was written by architect and teacher Richard Weston. Formerly head of the University of Portsmouth School of Architecture, he has also taught at De Montfort University and the Welsh School of Architecture. As you'd expect it's a fascinating and enlightening read. 


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