Four cardinalities : Alvar Aalto’s industrial architecture 1929-1951

  • Andrew Metcalf

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis examines the interwar industrial work of the renown Finnish architect and
designer Alvar Aalto (1898–1976) and its significance in an interpretation of his work.
Despite their number, size and importance to the Aalto corpus, the industrial buildings and
their relationship with the other well-known works in his design portfolio, have received
limited treatment in architectural scholarship despite their obvious relevance.
Set against the historical backdrop of modern industrial architecture, this thesis
examines a selection of eight different interwar Alvar Aalto industrial buildings in the context
of the architect’s coeval, well-documented non-industrial work and the development of his
mature architectural style. The study posits that four cardinal architectural design tropes in
Aalto’s architecture are observable in the 1930s industrial works often before they were
evident in his architecture more broadly. Each of these four cardinalities adds extra material to
the interpretation of Aalto’s work. Another inference is that Aalto’s factory architecture is
important to the general history of modern industrial architecture through its contribution to
an architectural aesthetic wherein industrial buildings manifested architectural tendencies
beyond the merely utilitarian.
The thesis comprises five chapters which sequentially introduce and problematise the
study, and then position Aalto with reference to the extant literature including his own
writing. This is followed by a contextualisation of his industrial work in relation to the history
of modern industrial architecture in the century from the 1830s. The penultimate chapter
includes an analytical discourse accounting for the eight included Aalto industrial works and
their historical and critical implications as foreshadowed above. The final chapter then is a
more detailed consideration of each of the four Aalto cardinalities that have been distilled
during the course of this research.
Accordingly, the thesis argues that a compound rubrication of Biomorphism,
Materialism, Unitary Tectonics and Technological Anxiety is discernible in Aalto’s interwar
industrial architecture, and in his architecture broadly. Collectively, these four cardinalities,
emerging from the industrial works differentiate the form, the materiality, the constructional
aesthetic and the background philosophical disquiet manifested by the architect in the
interwar period.
Date of Award2019
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorGevork Hartoonian (Supervisor) & Michael Jasper (Supervisor)

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