A house in Finland. The fantasy and the memory | Borja Lopez Cotelo

I began to walk between the coniferous ones. His geometric trunks were leaking the beams of the pale Sun. They were last days of May and on the lake Päijänne there were floating still some chunks of ice, lazy in these last weeks of winter lethargy.

It was walking slowly, being afraid to meet suddenly the housing that Alvar Aalto had constructed for yes same in this place. The path was avoiding masses of granite that were arising here and there. In his end, an incline was demanding the last effort before reaching the house of the architect.

Exterior sight of the “Experimental summer House ” (Muuratsalo, Finland) by Alvar Aalto

From the distance I perceived the impressive dimension of the wall of closing, perforated only by a hollow. A thin white coating was straining for revealing the irregularities of the apparel, but the light of the North – more obstinate than Aalto – was making them silence. His blemishes were vanishing in a world without shades.

I entered the court. The walls that were confining me were a mosaic of colors and textures, born all of them of the clay. The blue rollers were answering to reddish bricks that, with his different forms, they were forming a made fabric of remnants. I approached the window and could guess a modest interior protected by the robust frames of wood. The door was closed and I decided to return on my steps. I crossed again the court and could distinguish a cavity destined to contain the fire.

Court of the “Experimental summer House” (Muuratsalo, Finland) by Alvar Aalto | Photography: Chen Yu Ching

I decided to sit down in a polished rock for the ice and to chew what it had seen during the days of trip across Finland. I extracted a bundle of papers faded of the blue of my pocket and put to read.

We can import a prop created under the Sun, we it can place right here … but we cannot create a Doric column, or maybe only raise it for the pleasure of doing it 1.

It gave me for thinking about the Sun and about the Mediterranean.

And it was done late.

While he was guarding my leaves, I distinguished between them Alvar Aalto’s drawing. It was a note done with charcoal or soft pencil, which was showing a temple lodged in a promontory. Every line seemed to count a history: the palms of the first plane were suggesting a latitude, the mountains drawn beyond the building were revealing a bristly topography that, in times, there must have been protected the city. It did not seem to the draftsman to import for him the order of the temple, his proportion or his materiality. Maybe it was the Temple of the Concord, or that of Juno Lacinia. Maybe not. In his low end I could read: Agrigento, 1952.

Alvar Aalto’s sketch in Agrigento, 1952

Some days later I left of Finland. The way of return was long, and I amused myself observing the barren dotted landscape of red constructions, furthermore worrying without the protection of the snow. I thought then about Agrigento’s sketch. It had in slightly familiar him.

When I came to house, I opened with curiosity my only book on Alvar Aalto. In one of his pages I found a sketch of the housing in Muuratsalo, that one who had found between coniferous days before. I verified that the drawing was resembling that one that Aalto had done in Sicily: the point of view was emphasizing the position of the building in the landscape placed in the high of a hill. The house was appearing – as the temple – from a certain distance and reduced to his essential lines. It was not any more than a volume, a mass that was observing us from his watchtower. A few lines seemed to outline the small attached pieces, and a broken outline was testing the definitive form of the cover. But little they were importing the details: it was a question of an object in duel with the landscape, with the topography, with the lake and the way scribbled in his low part. I looked the date: 1952.

Sketches of the “Experimental summer House” (Muuratsalo, Finland) by Alvar Aalto

I guarded the book and put to think in the memory and in the fantasy.

I imagined Aalto sat in his board of drawing in 1952. It had to draw a house for him and for his second wife, Elsa Mäkkiniemi. So it started thinking as a rational man, delineating a Finnish house. But his memory and his fantasies started infecting these intentions, and the hand made sprout in the paper a house in the hill, a temple that it had admired months behind on a distant coast.

I read then a few lines written by Aalto:

Only when the constructive components of a building, the forms that of them are deduced logically, are colored with what we might call the art of the game, we are in the correct way2.

It is, I thought. The house in Muuratsalo is not any more than a game. Because of it Aalto played at imagining that, when it was landing in the frozen shore of the Päijänne, actually it was doing it in the Sicilian cliffs, and that his house was this temple that it had outlined. Maybe even he imagined that the leaden reflection of the lake would be equal to that of the Mediterranean.

Alvar Aalto|Alvar Aalto Foundation

Once again, it had been done late. Before falling down in a deep dream, it happened to me that maybe the brain is not formed by compartments monopolies3, that the hand probably is the most effective instrument of the memory.

I fell asleep.

And the following day, I was late to working.

Borja López Cotelo. Doctor architect

A Coruña. september 2011


1. Sverre Fehn en Norberg-Schulz, Ch. and G. Postiglione: Sverre Fehn Opera Completa. Electa, Milán 2007, pag. 285

2. AALTO, Alvar (1953): ‘Casa experimental en Muuratsalo’, Arkkitehti num. 9/10.

3. Probably because of it, John Berger refirió to the interaction between drawing, analysis and memory: ‘It is the own act of drawing the one that forces the artist to look at the object that has before it, to diseccionarlo in the eye of his mind and to return to join the pieces. Or, if it is drawing of memory, which forces him to rake inside his own mind to discover the content of his store of past observations’.

Borja López Cotelo

Borja López Cotelo, arquitecto por la ETSAC desde 2007, y doctor por la UdC desde 2013.

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