Muuratsalo Experimental House was Alvar Aalto’s playground

The Muuratsalo Experimental House functioned both as a summer residence of Alvar and Elissa Aalto and a test site for architectural elements. The Experimental House, located in Central Finland, gave Alvar Aalto the opportunity to play with construction materials and test new kinds of structural solutions.

The exterior of the Muuratsalo Experimental House
The Muuratsalo Experimental House is located near Jyväskylä, in a steep and rocky forest landscape typical of the Päijänne region. The holiday home is made of the same material as Säynätsalo Town Hall, located on a nearby island.

THE EXPERIMENTAL HOUSE IS ACCESSED via a winding path in a pine forest. At the end of the path, the building rests on a rocky shore of Lake Päijänne, slightly undulating with the terrain. The part of the building that reaches the greatest height is the main section, which is made of bricks and plastered white. Next to it, there is a lower wooden wing that contains sleeping space for guests.

The exterior image of the Muuratsalo Experimental House
The Experimental House does not feature any structures traditionally used in Finnish summer cottages. The building looks modern and does not bear any national-romantic characteristics.
The atrium of The Experimental House
The Experimental House is directly connected with the surrounding nature and landscape. The building has been adapted to the terrain. The atrium is like a large extra room with a pit in the middle for an open fire.
Different tiles and bricks
When looking at the walls of the Muuratsalo Experimental House, it is easy to understand why it bears the name it does. The floor of the atrium and the surrounding walls feature masonry experiments conducted with over 50 different brick types and various bricklaying methods.

On the lake side of the snow-white building, the atmosphere is completely different: there is a sheltered atrium made entirely of red brick. The wall surface in the atrium is divided into fifty sections, and in each of them, the bricks and tiles are laid in a different manner. The walls have functioned as a test site for different brick types and ways of laying bricks as well as combinations of red brick and ceramic tiles. There are also similar test sections on the floor of the atrium.

The walls have functioned as a test site for different brick types. The atrium looks like a masonry lesson or Alvar Aalto’s test laboratory.

All in all, the atrium looks like a masonry lesson or test laboratory. No wonder that this holiday home designed by architect Alvar Aalto (1898–1976) bears the name of Experimental House.

“The group of buildings in Muuratsalo is intended to serve as both a peaceful architect’s studio and an experimental center suitable for carrying out the experiments that are not yet ready for other environments. It is also to be a place where the proximity to nature provides inspiration for shapes and structures alike,” commented Alvar Aalto in the Finnish Arkkitehti magazine in 1952.

Interior image of the Experimental House
The main section of the summer residence has a high slanted ceiling, and it was used for lounging and dining. At the highest point, there is a loft that served as Aalto’s workspace. He used it for creating designs and making paintings.
Atrium of the Experimental House
The window in the main space overlooks Lake Päijänne, with the atrium wall framing the view.
Artek Aalto floor lamp A810, brass
The A810 floor lamp and 401 armchair are classics designed by Aalto. Many of the objects on the windowsill are unique gifts from friends and family.

The architect couple Alvar and Elissa Aalto (1922–1994) hade the Experimental House built as their summer residence during 1952–1954. They acquired the plot when working on the nowadays world-famous Säynätsalo Town Hall and supervising its construction. Thus, it is only natural that these two buildings have a great deal in common in terms of spirit and materials – just on a different scale.

• Read also: Säynätsalo Town Hall is a masterpiece that represents Alvar Aalto’s more humanistic design >

Alvar and Elissa found the place for their holiday home in the neighboring island of Muuratsalo, located only about five kilometers from the Säynätsalo Town Hall. Alvar Aalto, who had grown up in the Päijänne region in Central Finland, took a liking to the rugged scenery in Muuratsalo. The carefully selected plot had its own sheltered natural harbor for a boat and views over the large Lake Päijänne. Even the bell tower of Muurame Church, one of Aalto’s early works (1926–1929), could be seen on the opposite shore.

A large, white open fireplace
View from the main space toward the hallway. The main space is dominated by a large, white open fireplace.
Living room area in the Aalto Experimental House
One of the walls in the main section is covered with boards. The joints are accentuated with moldings that provide the large, white surface with a nice structure.
Artek  Aalto pendant lamp A110 "Hand Grenade", white
The items on the kitchen shelves belong to the Kilta collection designed by Kaj Franck. The lamp is a version of Aalto’s A110 pendant.
H55 tablecloth by Elissa Aalto
The tablecloth in the kitchen is adorned by the H55 pattern designed by Elissa Aalto. The rattan chairs were designed by Maija Heikinheimo, and the painting on the wall is by Alvar Aalto.

When designing the Experimental House, Alvar Aalto avoided all the structures traditionally used in Finnish holiday homes and rural buildings. Instead, he designed a modern brick-built summer home that is more likely to remind you of a piazza in a small Italian village or the ruins of a house dating back to Ancient Rome.

The Experimental House lacks all the rustic nostalgia typical of Finnish summer cottages.

The Experimental House lacks all the rustic nostalgia typical of Finnish summer cottages. Despite this, the building seems to be in balance with the surrounding nature and landscape.

The interior of the house looks simple, fresh and modern. Most of the furniture in the house is designed by Aalto and manufactured by Artek. There is also custom-made furniture designed by interior architect Maija Heikinheimo (1908–1963), who worked at Artek’s drawing office.

Alvar Aalto's workplace in the Experimental House
Alvar’s workspace was located in the loft. The blank canvas boards on the desk date back to the time when Aalto used to paint in the summer.
Vintage Artek Stool 60
“The rocky Muuratsalo island in the middle of Lake Päijänne hosts our experimental house that is yet to be named, created for the architect’s own amusement and experimentation,” said Alvar Aalto in the Arkkitehti magazine in 1953. Stool 60, Artek.

Most of the 120 square meters in the summer home are in the main section with a slanted ceiling, which is a combined living room, dining area and workspace. To the highest point of the main space, Aalto designed a loft where he could innovate and paint in the summer.

The bedrooms, on the other hand, are so small that they resemble boat cabins. They do not have room for much more than beds.

The most important space is outside. The sheltered, room-like atrium is the heart of the place. That is where Elissa and Alvar spent time when the weather was good, sitting by the fire pit in the middle of the atrium come evening.

The most important space is outside. The sheltered, room-like atrium is the heart of the Experimental House.

“The most dominating feature of the entire group of buildings is the fire in the middle of the atrium, the key to the coziness, just like a slow-burning log fire in the middle of a campsite, with the fire and the reflections from the walls of snow providing the people with a pleasant – almost mystical – sense of warmth.”

The group of buildings also includes a lakeside log sauna, grayed by weather. Of all the buildings on the plot, it is the most traditional.

However, Aalto would not have been true to himself if he had not also tested new ideas when designing the smoke sauna. He provided the sauna with a shed roof and a fan-shaped floor plan. The form was created by laying the logs in the same direction. Laying the thicker ends of the logs on top of each other automatically gave the building a shed roof.

Sleeping areas in the Experimental House
The Experimental House has an L-shaped floor plan. One of the wings hosts a sleeping area with three small bedrooms. The farthest room was Alvar’s.
Artek coat rack
The paneling on the hallway walls is similar to the paneling in the bedrooms. The coat rack is by Artek.
Bedroom in the Experimental House
The bedrooms in the Experimental House are small and plain. They mainly have space for sleeping. The surface materials and interesting ceiling angles do, however, give the spaces character.

To Alvar and Elissa, the Experimental House became an important and dear getaway place, where they spent a month every summer. It was a place for forgetting all titles, tight everyday clothes and just relaxing and spending leisurely summer days. They spent their holidays swimming, painting and enjoying the company of their guests, often with a glass of wine. Many world-famous architects, who were part of Aalto’s wide circle of friends, spent summer days at the Experimental House.

The Muuratsalo Experimental House can be explored in the summer on a guided tour organized by the Alvar Aalto Museum.

Get inspired

Muuratsalo & Studio Aalto book
Artek
A810 floor lamp
Artek
Riihitie plant pot
Artek
Stool 60
Artek
112B wall shelf
Artek
A110 pendant lamp
Iittala
Teema plate
Artek
401 armchair

See also:

All designs by Alvar Aalto >

Text: Anna-Kaisa Huusko Images: Niclas Mäkelä

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