Alvar Aalto was born in 1898 in Kourtane, Finland but moved at a young age to Jyväskylä. At the age of 18, Aalto began architectural studies at Helsinki technical university (Helsinki Polytechnic) but was called up for military service during the Finnish winter war. When the war ended in 1918, Aalto came back to the university and graduated in 1921. Two years later, in 1923, Aalto set up his own architect studio in his hometown of Jyväskylä.
In 1924 Aalto hired the architect Aino Marsio, with whom he married after only six months. The couple became partners in their creative work, and among their early projects one can mention the Sanatorium in Paimio and a series of children's furniture in bentwood. The sanatorium was finished in 1932 and led to Alvar Aalto getting his international breakthrough that he fortified with the Finnish pavilions at the world exhibition in Paris 1937 (Maison Artek) and in New York 1939.
In the end of the 1920s Aalto got connected to the Swedish architects Sven Markelius and Gunnar Asplund and through them he started to engage in the functionalist movement and its social idealism. He later remained true to the rational form but combined it with organic shapes and Finnish building traditions. The result of this is best shown in Paimio Sanatorium (1932) and the private villa Villa Mairea in Björneborg (1938-1939).
In 1935 the Aalto couple founded the company Artek – short for Art and Technology - together with Maire Gullichsen and Nils-Gustav Hahl. The company was in many ways set up to sell Aalto’s interior design on the international market. The iconic stool E60, made of laminated wood and designed by Aalto together with Otto Korhonen, was one of the first objects sold by Artek and is still in production today.
During the 1940s Aalto was guest professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. There he designed the Baker House in Boston, among other projects. When Aino Aalto died in 1949 Alvar was left without a private, as well as a professional, partner. In 1952 he remarried with architect Elissa Mäkiniemi who came to be instrumental in the preservation of Aalto’s and Artek’s heritage.
Aalto was passionate about the monumental, and during the 1940- , 50- and 60s he created several projects on a grand scale, of which the Finlandia House in Helsinki (1961-1976) and the Nordic House in Reykjavik (1964-1969) can be mentioned. For Seinäjoki and Rovaniemi Aalto made city center plans, complete with a parish house, theater, library and city hall. Between 1943-59 Aalto was chairman of the Finnish Association of Architects and during 1955 to 1968 he was a commissioner and later chairman of the Finnish Academy. When he died at the age of 78, he had created more than 1000 realized and unrealized projects.