Säynätsalo Town Hall was built in the early 1950s to serve as a town hall for a municipal of only 3,000 residents. Today, the building is open to visitors and offers guest rooms for an overnight stay. Take a tour around the town hall together with Design Stories!
SÄYNÄTSALO TOWN HALL in Central Finland has been called the most beautiful building designed by architect Alvar Aalto (1898–1976). The strengths of the building lie in its humane scale, subtle spatial design, natural materials and the way the building lets nature and light in.
The design project for the Säynätsalo Town Hall commenced in 1948 when Säynätsalo, a municipal of about 3,000 residents located in an island in Lake Päijänne, started to consider the construction of a town hall. The island community had become a separate municipality twenty years earlier, but it did not have a town hall of its own.
The aim was to build a town hall that was not only an official building but also a local center featuring a library, pharmacy, bank, apartments and a few stores, among others. In an architectural design competition organized in 1949, to which two other architects were invited in addition to Alvar Aalto, the candidates were asked to design a streamlined three-story building with separate floors for different functions.
Aalto, however, came up with different solution in his proposal Curia. Instead of a simple high-rise, he designed a building around an atrium with spaces divided into four wings. He placed the business premises on the first floor, with access directly from the surrounding yard areas. Aalto exceptionally elevated the atrium to the level of the second floor. The municipal offices were designed around this cozy yard area.
Säynätsalo Town Hall combines natural materials, closeness to nature and Alvar Aalto’s subtle spatial design.
The most monumental section of the building was the chamber of the municipal council, with a floor-to-ceiling height of up to 17 meters. The height emphasized the dignity of the space and gave the entire building an impressive look.
“The town hall in Siena, Italy, the most famous and beautiful town hall in the world, hosts a council chamber with a floor-to-ceiling height of 16 meters. I suggest that we build a room where the ceiling soars to 17 meters,” commented Aalto. According to Aalto, better decisions were made in a tall room.
Aalto designed Säynätsalo Town Hall in a completely different way compared to his previous works. He started to move away from functionalism, which focused on efficiency, rationality and simplicity. Aalto provided Säynätsalo Town Hall with a new kind of warmth and liveliness.
A new kind of warmth and liveliness came to Aalto’s architecture with the design of Säynätsalo Town Hall.
This new approach is reflected in the way the building lets the nature in. Each window in the building provides a carefully selected view of the surrounding nature or the sheltered courtyard. The scale of the building was also humane. The spaces were varied, and the materials came from nature: red bricks, wood, copper and stone.
After designing Säynätsalo Town Hall, Aalto continued designing buildings with the same, more humanistic approach. Other significant buildings that Aalto designed during his “red-brick period” in the 1950s include University of Jyväskylä (1951–1955) and Hall of Culture (1952–1958) and National Pensions Institute (1953–1956) in Helsinki.
When designing Säynätsalo Town Hall, Aalto was assisted by a young architect, Elsa Mäkiniemi (later Elissa Aalto, 1922–1994), who had been hired for the studio the same year. The relationship between Aalto, who had become a widower in 1949, and his assistant deepened during the design of Säynätsalo Town Hall, and the couple got married at the end of 1952. Perhaps something of that new, hopeful phase in Aalto’s life is also reflected in the building.
In the interior design, Aalto was assisted by Maija Heikinheimo (1908–1963), who had been working at Artek. In addition to the building itself, Aalto designed details for the interior. Furniture, lamps and other objects were designed specifically for the building. Perhaps that is why Säynätsalo Town Hall forms an exceptionally uniform and harmonious whole, due to which it has become one of the hallmarks of modern architecture.
Today, Säynätsalo is part of Jyväskylä, and the town hall is no longer used for its original purpose. In the summer, the building is open to visitors, and the guest rooms can be booked for an overnight stay all year round.
Säynätsalo Town Hall is open in September 2021 on Mon, Wed, Fri 11 am – 5 pm; Sat 11 am – 3 pm. From October to April the Town Hall is open only by prior arrangement. Accommodation is open year-round. More information www.tavolobianco.com.
Text: Anna-Kaisa Huusko Images: Niclas Mäkelä