The year 1998 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, and this book of his writings is one of many publications and exhibitions designed to commemorate it. Editor Goran Schildt is Aalto's official biographer. He has compiled a lifetime of Aalto's thoughts, and provided all the connective tissue a reader needs to place those thoughts in context. The architect, he says, "shunned the role of prophet and was averse to the abstract hair-splitting practised by art critics today." Instead, he was "a social creature," whose "gift of doubt" sets him apart from pontificators of all eras.
Aalto's writings are filled with theories--many profoundly idealistic--that are part of a less cynical age, when humanists believed that social change through culture was an imminent likelihood. Priceless passages abound, not all of them about architecture. Aalto writes with high spirits about setting toilet-paper bonfires with his two brothers in childhood, for instance, or drunken parties with poets, artists, and other architects (notably his teacher, Eliel Saarinen). Aalto's famously lithe and accomplished pencil drawings, which prove the artist in the architect, illustrate the book, along with photographs of his buildings.