LONDON.- The Gallerys 2008 summer exhibition presents two buildings from Alvar Aaltos early production, both of which were originally designed as club houses. The Jyväskylä Workers Club and the Defence Corps building were among the few masonry buildings in the small town dominated by wooden buildings. When designing these two buildings, the young architect Aalto followed the prevailing architectural trend of the time, the Nordic Classicism of the 1920s. The design of the Workers Club theatre and office building was influenced by Italian Renaissance palaces. However, the Defence Corps building, completed at the end of the 1920s, already heralded a new trend. The building history of these important milestones in Aaltos architecture is presented in the exhibition through original drawings and photographs from that time. Original furniture from the buildings is also on display.
The Jyväskylä Workers Club, 1924-25
The Jyväskylä Workers Association commissioned Aalto to design their headquarters in 1924. Aalto, who had then recently established his first architects office in the town, took on the work with great enthusiasm. The result was a two-storey building situated on the corner of two streets in the centre of the town, and with a café and restaurant on the ground floor. From the street level one entered an impressive entrance hall that led upstairs to the auditorium floor comprising a theatre space and foyer. In the basement floor spaces were reserved for, among other things, a kitchen, storage and washing and toilet facilities. Aalto also designed the lamps for the building as well as the decorative paintings and part of the furniture.
The form language of the Workers Club stems from Italian Renaissance architecture. The colour scheme is typical of Nordic Classicism. Aino and Alvars honeymoon trip to Italy in 1924 presumably influenced the design of the interior. The trip was undertaken when the construction was still in progress, and when the couple returned part of the plans for the interior design was changed. As the work progressed, the original plans were simplified, as were the decorative motifs. The Jyväskylä Workers Club was completed in 1925.
The cafe and restaurant in the building have undergone many changes over the years and nothing of the original interior remains. Also the auditorium spaces have over the decades been renewed in accordance with the taste preferences of the time. The building came under the protection of building protection legislation in 1986. The facades and main entrance of the building were renovated in 1997. In the most recent renovation, completed in March 2008, the entrance hall, foyer and auditorium were returned to a state close to the original. Some of the painted decorations uncovered in the renovation work were restored to their former glory. Also two lamp wall brackets were restored in accordance with older models. The building, which is still owned by the Workers Association, and which in 2008 celebrates its 120th anniversary, functions as a venue for festive occasions and meetings.
Jyväskylä Defence Corps building, 1926-29
The Jyväskylä Defence Corps building was built in order to solve the long-term space shortage of the local defence corps. An open architectural competition for the unusually large design task was announced in March 1926. The young architect Aalto won the two-stage competition with his proposal titled Intra Muros and thus received the design commission. The so-called Suoja-talo [Suoja House], completed three years later, was a multipurpose building. The extensive room programme originated from the needs of the defence corps, but there was also an incentive to make the building financially viable by renting out commercial premises. A variety of different activities were housed in the simple external envelope. In addition to office, training and hostel facilities, the building offered space for a cinema, auditorium, restaurant, bank and the first market hall in the town. For the purpose of military training, the building even housed a small-bore rifle range. In the low wing building there was a gunsmith and supplies storage.
The Defence Corps Building, completed in 1929, is one of the few buildings in Finland belonging to the last stages of Nordic Classicism while also heralding the beginnings of Functionalism. The treatment of the spaces and the interior design solutions were already somewhat rational and indicated the turning point towards Modernism in Alvar Aaltos architecture at that time. The innovations in the new architecture Poul Henningsens standard lamps, the Bauhaus-inspired lettering in the advertising, opaque glass and shiny nickel had been adopted from the continental pioneers of Functionalism.
As a result of the worldwide economic recession, the building came already in 1934 under state ownership. Since then, the building known from that point onwards also as the State House has undergone continuous change. The original room subdivision has been almost completely destroyed and building on the courtyard side as well as the renewal of the windows has changed the appearance of the facades. Foundation excavations when constructing new neighbouring buildings have caused serious damage also to the structure of the building. The repair and renovation of the Defence Corps building has become a topical issue as it is in the process of changing ownership. The future owner, a private building company, is obliged to repair the structural damages and return the street facade and the auditorium spaces to their original state as set out by the 1999 decree protecting the building and a proposal put forward by the National Board of Antiquities.