Out from the Master's shadow: Just as Alvar Aalto pioneered a softer, less severe form of Modernism, a young Finnish firm innovates with social spaces that point a library addition—and a small town—in the direction of the future.
Designing an addition to an Alvar Aalto building is hard enough—try doing it with five other Aalto structures hovering nearby, in a Finnish town whose identity has been indelibly linked to the master since the 1960s. A separation of nearly 50 years does help with the task, providing a buffer between the original architect and the young guns hired to muscle their way into the existing cluster of local landmarks. “The shadow of the big guy was something we struggled with,” says Asmo Jaaksi, the partner at JKMM Architects in charge of adding to Aalto's 1965 City Library in Seinäjoki. “But the generation before us had more trouble with Aalto,” says Jaaksi. “They were paralyzed by him.”
Like most of Aalto's work, his library in Seinäjoki is about creating a place, not whipping up forms. You enter a simple, almost nondescript box, then discover a fan-shaped reading room that embraces you with curving bookshelves, light floating in from above, and a sunken reading area that's as intimate as a public space can be. JKMM avoided direct quotations from the big guy's vocabulary but followed his lead in developing a Scandinavian strain of Modernism that focuses on social interaction and welcoming spaces, rather than heroic forms.