SPECIAL – Iconic Housing
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Maintaining Aalto's Studio – Linoleum Conservation
Alvar Aalto (1898–1976) designed the building at Tiilimäki 20 in Munkkiniemi as his own office in 1955. Because of several large commissions, the office needed more space to work in. The building is near Aalto's own house, where the office had previously been located. Both Studio Aalto and the Aalto House are members of the Iconic Houses Network.
Author: Jonas Malmberg, MSc (arch.), M.A. / Alvar Aalto Foundation
Studio Aalto in the 1950s (Havas / Alvar Aalto Museum).
The white-rendered building conceals an inner garden shaped like an amphitheatre. The office staff could sit on the slate steps of the amphitheatre, listen to lectures or watch slide shows projected on the white wall. The last being seldom used due to the light summer nights and cold winters.
The main space in the building is the curving studio which has a view opening onto the courtyard. The rear wall is covered with climbing plants reaching up to the high-level windows. And prototypes of light fittings designed by Alvar Aalto are hung in front of the wall. The slanting bay window of the meeting room creates the perfect conditions for examining drawings.
On the upper floor, there is a drawing office on a narrow plan, beautifully encircled by natural light from a band of high-level windows. In 1962–1963 the building was extended by building a dining room for the staff, the 'Taverna', with an office above it.
Alvar Aalto ran the office until his death in 1976. After that, the office continued under the leadership of Elissa Aalto until 1994. The building came into the custodianship of the Alvar Aalto Foundation in 1984 and today it houses the Foundation.
The major restoration of the Studio building was completed by architects Eric Adlercreutz and Hasse Hägerström in 2005. Since that the procedure of constant maintaining has been taken place. For example, most of the exteriors have been recently repainted. And the timber built shelter and the fences in the courtyard were restored last summer.
Maintaining works in the summer of 2012; installing the glass of the meeting room bay window.
The principle in the actions has been set so that each year some interventions are executed, but the building shall keep its patina, appearance and feeling. Each restoration work is carefully studied and best practices are followed. Also, economical restrictions are met since minor annual projects are well affordable on limited budgets.
Most of the major spaces in the Studio have linoleum floors, all of those being still original with multiple minor dents and traces witnessing the decades of life. Due to the daily work in the building the conservation of the original linoleum floors has been scheduled over several years.
Dirt or patina in the middle of the floor prior to the process?
The first preliminary test of the cleaning was done in 2013 by conservator Heli Ketomäki, who has been leading also the later works. In the test the methods were studied in a limited area so that the right level of intervention was found. The original linoleum shall keep its’ fascinating 60-year-old patina but become clean and protected by traditional wax treatment.
The main space in the Studio used to be Aalto’s own office, which has a cream white linoleum flooring. Over the decades, the linoleum had become dark and dirty, and partly detached from the concrete base. In the late autumn 2015 Ketomäki and her group carefully glued the loose parts and removed the dirt and several layers of wax.
The glue was drying under the weights.
This manual work was relatively slow as no large scale machinery could be used, and all the corners were cleaned manually. But due to the preliminary test work suitable methods were found rapidly and the space got back the warm tone of light reflecting from the polished floor.
The cleaned and uncleaned linoleum during the process.
Only small scale tools were used in the polishing.
The beautiful warm tone of the light after the conservation.
The next step will take place in the winter 2016 as Ketomäki will continue the process. The next actions will take place in the original meeting room and office spaces originally used by the architects working for Alvar Aalto.
Also, this time some preliminary tests are necessary. First the colour of the linoleum is relatively dark, thus the method shall be adjusted so that the result is uniform enough. Secondly there is a major crack in the middle of the floor as the building has settled down and created a necessary contraction joint. This will mean more gluing than was needed in the main space.
The next space where the original linoleum will be conserved.
Maintaining and conserving an iconic building, like Studio Aalto, needs understanding of the old building materials and their patina. Our goal is to keep the building alive also for the becoming generations without losing neither the old materials nor the fascinating feeling of the office – still serving as the place for our everyday work.
Publication date 20 December 2016