Alvar Aalto was an anarchist

(alvar aalto was an anarchist was originally posted as part of the whats going on series @ EASA (European Architecture Students Assembly) blog on 2005-02-05)

Hugo Alvar Henrik Aalto (1898 – 1976)

an open system of a book entitled “alvar aalto was an anarchist” is being put together. your contributions, questions, views, ideas are all most welcome. especially from our finnish friends and from obelix, i forget his real name; one of the swiss team who was at roubaix

for further reading, listening and viewing:

living (written piece)
anarchy and revolution (written piece)
Anarchy and Organisation (written piece)

The post led to some (heated) discussion, within which some more points were made:


duncan, 2005-02-06 18:42: talking shite

5 further audio pieces to help make sense of things
1-alto 57
2-whats wrong with anarchism
3-some repulsive proposals
4-talking shite
5-gandhi the philosophical anarchist

first audio recording is alto 57 ,aaltos 1957 talk about architectural revolution reading of his 1957 address to RIBA about the revolution in architecture, his plea to make a pleasent existence for the “little man on the street”- possibly the issues raised are all the more important to be thought about today.

whats wrong with anarchism” is an excerpt from “The Age of Consent: A manifesto for a new world order” by George Monbiot. it is read out for later use in film that is being developed and to promote further discussion
15 min 12 seconds

third audio recording “some repulsive proposals
the prologue of the manifesto- 5min 31seconds

fourth audio recording “talking shite” is a general sunday afternoon ramble about shite in dublin; politics, art, life, love, trains, boredom…….

fifth audio recording is “gandhi the philosophical anarchist“, a description of mahatma by nehru in “an autobiography”



duncan, 2005-03-01 19:57: alvar aalto was he an anarchist ?

following text is first outside input i have recieved on this issue

part of reason for my exploration:

“anyway, the main endpoint of this is to further challenge todays architects to engage in the dialogue, thinking, action that the anarchists and other activists are busy with already.
this is because the vast vast majority dont give a shit, do fuck all…. and if they did a bit more things might improve…”

that was response email from me to DGN anarchist D

on receipt of part of the following~:

he (L) appears to believe that
Alvar was indeed an idealist but is a little reluctant to confirm
that he was an anarchist.

L’s summing up/ brainstorm is the following:

I know very little about Aaalto. My personal outline would be: ‘master Scandinavian modernist’. His hugely influential designs including chairs and glassware and a prolific range of building types. The Scandinavian modernist tends to be a gentler creature than his Franco-German cousin (e.g. Corbusier-Mies Van De Rohe) counterpart. He tends to soften or ‘humanize’ his work through use of natural materials and small scale detailing. That said, the initial impression will be of concrete forms, often (wrongly) viewed as innately anti-human.

According to Richard Weston[ref 1, p149] Kropotkin’s ‘Memoirs of a revolutionist’ was amongst his favourite works. Weston asserts, however, that Aaalto did not identify with anarchism or any other ideology. It is frequently the habit of architects to cherry pick philosophical tropes in a personal and highly eccentric manner. I would argue that the essential pragmatism of their endeavour (compared with the other ‘arts’) causes them to focus on the useful. No doubt there are many great theses, real and imagined, on materialism and architecture.

Aaalto’s idealism, believing that ‘ordinary donkey-drivers and wool carders could .. live a rich and free life on the piazzas of the Italian towns’ seems rooted in romantic views of the Mediterranean life, the renaissance and the values of ancient Greece. Many ‘moderns’ shared these values, indeed it has been suggested that modernism is in
essence a continuation of romanticism (one where God has finally been done away with), imbued as it is by Utopian visions of humanity and its world. Here I would advocate caution; architecture’s utopianism is often a partially veiled totalising enterprise — Corbusier is theobvious example of this. Although these moderns appear to believe their emancipatory rhetoric, the effect is the bolster the architects societal role as forgers of the future. If the twentieth century has taught us anything it is wariness against such unifying narratives.

My second caution in relation to this endeavour (‘alvar aalto was an anarchist’) is what might be termed ‘the ethics of appropriation’. If the ends sought are a legitimation of a particular ideology through ‘celebrity endorsement’, the enterprise seems questionable. Aalto, like many thinkers, practitioners and people, sought a better life for ‘the little man’. This alone does not make him an anarchist. Anarchism has its own panoply of thought, rich in diversity and complexity. Appropriation though vague appearance of sympathy serves only to denigrate the veracity and value of this thought.

Finally, and this time the eccentricity is assuredly mine, we should reflexively examine any thought system even partly enmeshed in the values of the ancients. Greece, its republic and its competing philosophies have been re imagined from antiquity onwards. This recasting ranges from the imperial Romans ad hoc mixing of platonic, stoic and kitchen sink, Christian incorporation of platonic formulations, Arab re workings in the 8th/9th/10th century, renaissance classicism, Imperial British appropriations and our present day ‘armed enlightenment’. To say nothing of individual users such as Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Deleuze and everyone else. I feel the eccentricity is getting out of hand, so I’ll stop there. Tread gently (and with great reflection).

Alvar Aalto / Richard Weston.
by Weston , Richard.
London : Phaidon Press , 1997.

But that’s 30 minutes of mental clutter. If the project takes on more shape, I’d be interested to see it and perhaps apply some more serious consideration.

all the best,

L is friend of D who is a friend through DGN network

upcoming stuff in ireland and further afield to be involved with or active about:


jelkkruk, 2005-03-01 20:22

if you need a role model to show how cool it can be to be an anarchist, you are not cool and not an anarchist.

if you only were an anarchist, i would start believing in god and build a temple. any god

NB: of course i did not read your posting, don’t worry


duncan, 2005-03-02 11:55: people are doing stuff, maybe more architects could participate?

point is :
many people ARE doing things, most of them are NOT architects, perhaps more architects MIGHT get involved.

a paradigm shift has happened, my view is that the arx are slow to participate
what people are doing was outlined in
global civil society – how things can be in the future- new communication
which i feel are extremely important points which are not even being discussed in the realms of architectural discussion at present. this led me to the view that it IS indeed a state of emergency


jim hayton, 2005-03-03 15:08: Mon an’archy…

.. by playing with the French word for “my” and “anarchy” we get Monarchy…

Dunc, Just picking up on the last few postings.

If one said that in popular culture;
Anarchy = Punk philosophy then today’s Punk = Mainstream

The year 2002 was the 25th Anniversary of Punk here in the UK “we” today’s youth had a prime opportunity to celebrate / push things forward.

But no, “cool trendsetters” payed £25+ for a haircut to look like David Beckham who inturn had subverted the original Punk philosophy of The Sex Pistols etc. of 1977 by wearing a (non-offensive mini) mohican during the Football World Cup.
Therefore an outsider could believe; Punk had returned. It had not, only the Punk image had returned detached from the philosophy (do you think Sid Viscious would endorse CocaCola & Nike?)

Looking at Aalto as an architect role model for today’s would be anarchist- architect may result in the same problem, don’t you think??
as mentioned in the last posting by >anni sf< he’s all around, in Finland!

Therefore don’t assume that your way of looking at anarchy is the only way hence my intro “Mon’an’archy”

-To underline my story 2002 was also the Queen’s 50year of being Britain’s monarch..

How do you believe we should have celebrated 2002!?

That’s all for now, questions’s welcomed,

God save the Beckhams!


duncan, 2005-03-03 16:27: dubi: jim: jelk: from dunk (the punk)

you stated
“idea that architects shape the world and can change it died with modernism.”

why does EASA exist?
liverpool was fucked, arx gave a fuck, put a call out, people came and did stuff.
they tried and succeeded in changing a very little bit of world.
they happened to have a top quality experience at the same time, ie making friends, lovers, funny times, parties, new understanding, living in new place…….

that story has evolved, EASA still exists.
as previously stated, i do feel it has turned into more play than work (there are of course crossover between, different interpretations and value placed on each etc.)
roubaix and la condition publique was an attempt for EASA again to deal with the city and the people, did we?
perhaps we did, perhaps we did not?
who knows, whats la c.p’s view of our “holiday” there, was it constructive?
maybe you read my previous posts on this issue

i feel we can be doing more
maybe we as “architects” can do nothing and we are merely here to slot into the machine?
is this a desirable system, can it be improved upon?
is there a critical discussion happening asto the purpose of ark?

but we agree, we as humans together can do stuff
many times ive asked EASA people what they are up to, it would be great to find out that as “people” there were thousands of EASAians up to exciting things to improve things all over europe. unfortunately i dont think this is the case, and when ive proposed something one would think is important, ie car free day, it would be great to get some support or even just a bit of feedback from the other quarters of europe
anyway puno hvala for input, pity we dident get more time to discuss and play in the city @ roubaix

i like aalto, always have done since i started learning my trade, i like his buildings, i like his ideas on organisation, im finding out more about his political views by reading his old speeches, or deliveries

im not an anarchist, i work with a lot of anarchists as i find many of their principals most agreeable and creative for me and my wants
also they are a lot of fun, make great food, put on great gigs, events, create excellent spaces
EASA itself i feel is a very anarchistic type system in terms of organisation and just getting stuck in and doing stuff

above i referred to george monbiots idea:
1 planet, 1 human species, 1 system of global governance
he was an anarchist for a long time, but found it too idealistic and unpractical for the serious global issues of today- starvation due to unfair trade rules, unneccessary wars…….

along with this is the ongoing evolution of teknological stuff, especially communication systems
jim, i asked a few times about uk’s views on connecting with a few, imho, very good tek communication crews @ london and the rest of uk (i was part of one such oxford crew 2 years ago)

anyway, re the punk image, yes i completely agree with you, it has been consumed
i look like a very normal person, i am a very normal person. but i do and have done some things that in my opinion are quite “punky”, in the sense of continuing to try to challenge unfair things and improve them
i meet young lads and lassees in their full rigout, there has been quite a few punk benefit gigs recently for indymedia, anti g-8 etc, its a nice developing scene.
anyway all these “punks” cuz they look punk, i mightnt really fit in due to “unpunkish looking attire” but its interesting when we start to discuss “what are you up to”

please enlighten us, add some positive input, how do you go about as an architect or a human improving things. what concerns you, what do you love?

this is too long, must view reviews
so ill sign out

punk ark @ 2001

dunk (the punk)
((my signature in signlanguage is a d-mohawk, i had one @ 98 after a trip to fun (and drink) filled glasgow))

ps- jim as a tribute to 2002 and time (that odd thing which allows us to live, if only for a very short while) in general

im listening to “god save the queen” liver version

no future…………………
and englands dreaming


frederik, 2005-03-04 00:59: I am pro…

i am for chocolate cookies, irish coffee, cigarettes, not sleeping, combining (very sustainable :p), eyecontact, other contact, i (heart) jelk t-shirts, short postings with essence, travelling, spending my last euro and finding another one, irony, sarcasm, cynism, adrenaline, dirty words and a lot more. but this would take me to far. its all not relevant on this page anyway, this post is too long already. whateverrr..

kafam çok karisık aman iyiyim.


anni sf, 2005-03-08 15:55: Dear Duncan!

The Alvar Aalto Foundation has material, but apparently everything is here in Helsinki (at his studio in Tiilimäki) and can’t be lent out. They’re pretty strict about copyrights etc. You should e-mail
She has access to all the stuff there is. Hopefully she can help you out in some way.
They loved the statement!
Big hug*a



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