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At the Alvar altar

When a town is called a ‘hub’ I’m never optimistic. Generally this a guidebook euphemism for ‘get out quickly stopping only for fuel or water’. The previous edition of the Finland book damns Sëinajoki even more conclusively as ‘a supply and service centre’. Expectations are low.
But the surprise of this little northern burg is that Alvar Aalto was allowed free reign with some of the town’s significant buildings. He composed the city as a symphony judging the flow from one building to the next to create the whole thing as a suite. Elsewhere you might get the odd piece of Aalto in between other building, but it must have been like having a blank book to design a city centre.

The most obvious building is the clocktower-cum-crucifix that resembles a lighthouse guiding you to the area. You need to wander around the buildings slowly to make sense of them. The curved form of the library reminds me of flicking through the pages of a book and inside there’s a sunken level that must annoy the librarians shuffling up and down the stairs. The town hall has a wave like form that seems to jump the road.
These days Aalto must seem a bit humdrum in the world of architecture but at the time his designs were years ahead of their time. After almost fifty years of designing, it must have felt like coming home to be asked to design the town centre of a city les than 50km from his birthplace.

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