Towards a culturally durable ultraviolet architecture

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School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Master's thesis
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Arkkitehtuurin maisteriohjelma
Within the context of the environmental crisis, this thesis considers the notion of sustainability by means of an architecture of cultural durability. Whilst many of the buildings of Alvar Aalto were completed over half a century ago, his works remain as a relevant example of culturally durable design through its engagement with societal factors that persist to this day. In Aalto’s 1935 speech, “Rationalism and Man,” he would propose his concept of extended rationality, arguing that the quantifiably rationalised practices of orthodox Modernism were flawed, owing to their failure to account for the unquantifiable ultraviolet elements of architecture. On this basis, the thesis aims to define Aalto’s ultraviolet elements, towards realising an architecture of cultural durability in the 21st century. The thesis is structured into three chapters which explore themes related to Aalto’s comments in his 1935 speech. The first chapter; Ultraviolet Contexts, establishes an understanding of societal factors which led to such practices Aalto would argue against. The chapter begins by considering how Enlightenment thought would result in the modernisation of Western society, and how its objective and subjective implications would lead to the emergence of cultural Modernism within the wider context of Modernity. A more focussed investigation of Aalto’s native Finland follows the establishment of the Finnish National Romantic movement, the influence of the continental European avant-garde towards Finnish architects, and the role played by the Nordic Neo-Classicist style after Finland gained its independence in 1917. The second chapter, Ultraviolet Perception, intends to identify the influencing factors which led to Aalto’s idiosyncratic design methodology and his comments in 1935. A comprehensive analysis of his works and writings during this period permits a realisation that idiosyncratic themes of mostly intuitive origin of his pre-Functionalist period were discarded as the result of such conceptual ideological influences. However, several key factors are identified which suggests why Aalto would eventually come to adopt an intuitively based multi-sensually empathetic method of practice. The final chapter, Post-Ultraviolet, considers how a Postmodern architectural heterotopia emerged after the Second World War as a result of a homotopic Modernist meta-narrative. It discusses how such an approach failed to account for the individual as an autonomous perceptive subject, leading to the inability of architecture to express a sense of societal collective memory. Despite Aalto’s association with orthodox Modernism after its acknowledged failure, his works would endure as a source of continued inspiration for Postmodern architects. As such, two significant texts within Postmodern architectural discourse that recognise Aalto’s works to be of sustained relevance are Robert Venturi’s early Postmodern manifesto Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (1966) and Kenneth Frampton’s Towards a Critical Regionalism: Six Points for an Architecture of resistance (1985). An analysis of these texts allows for a more in-depth understanding of the implications of architectural Postmodernism and explores reasons as to why Aalto’s works remained of interest. The thesis concludes that it is not possible to define the ultraviolet elements of architecture in objective terms. However, by reflecting the architect’s own multi-sensual experiences of architecture, an architecture of cultural durability can be achieved by means of an intuitively informed method of practice which accounts for the individual as a multi-sensual perceptive subject.
Reuter, Jenni
Thesis advisor
Vartola, Anni
cultural sustainability, Alvar Aalto, modernity, modernism, postmodernism, anti-dogma, subjective perception, intuition
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