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Susanna Pettersson, Alvar Aalto Foundation

We interviewed Susanna Pettersson when she was director of the Alvar Aalto Foundation and Museum. Pettersson is now director of The Finnish Institute in London, the organisation which has teamed up with the Iconic Houses Network to bring the first Iconic Houses Symposium in Europe to the V&A in London on 12 November.

Background; who are you?
I’m an art historian with a special interest in museum studies and theoretical issues. I worked 20 years at the Finnish National Gallery being one of its directors. There my department was responsible of the professional development of the Finnish art museum field. In 2010 I moved on to my current post at the Alvar Aalto Foundation and one of my challenges was to renew the organization. In spring 2013 I’ll take the next step and start as the Director of the Finnish Institute in London.

What is your relation to significant houses?
At the Alvar Aalto Foundation I have had the privilege to learn how powerful the houses are… for all the visitors from daily tourists to hard-core professionals. To understand modern house museums better and in a more profound way I’ve put the modern house museum experience into a museological frame and done some analysis on that. We have also started in-depth visitor surveys to understand the needs of the customers. The results are truly interesting! The need to encounter the “original” and “authentic” stands out the most.

What is your most favourite house
I have a very passionate relationship with spaces that have something significant to say. From the Aalto houses my favorite is Aalto’s studio where I’ve my office. It provides a great, inspirational and delightful working environment, and it’s fantastic to think that the majority number of Aalto’s buildings was created inside those walls. I have a soft spot for Mies van der Rohe’s buildings in general but I also adore Palladian villas in Italy.

What is the biggest challenge for you/your organisation at this moment
Alvar Aalto Foundation / Alvar Aalto Museum is expected to launch a new collection display in some years to come. The key questions are how the museum communicates with the world around it, and how it discusses good architecture and design in the contemporary context. In today’s world we need to focus on sustainable values and well thought out design is in a flagship position. The museum has a great possibility to encourage its guests to make a change for a better world.

What can we soon expect?
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I strongly believe that the museum needs to operate beyond its’ concrete walls… in the web and mobile environments, in outreach events, debates, and also in unexpected venues… and involve the people to the planning process. We will certainly include user and lived-in experiences of Aalto’s design and buildings to the displays. There’re lots of great stories to be told!

Read more about Alvar Aalto's Houses in our Specials section.