Finnish Pavilion, 1939
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Architect Alvar Aalto
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Location New York, New York   map
Date 1939   timeline
Building Type exhibition interior
 Construction System wood
Climate temperate
Context urban exposition
Style Modern
Notes competition winning interior evoking northern lights. At New York World's fair.


Discussion Finnish Pavilion, 1939 Commentary

"This pavilion was truly a 'magic box' from a spatial point of view on the inside, whilst it remained a simple functional box on the outside."

—Malcolm Quantrill. Alvar Aalto: a Critical Study. p92.

"The Exhibition is difficult to describe architecturally. It represents a synthesis of, on the one hand, typical forms and symbols existing in the Finnish landscape and, on the other, of rational considerations. Determinants in the creation of the Pavilion were the significance of Finland's northern location and the attempt to achieve a combination of horizontal and vertical effects.

In order to enlarge visually the relatively small standard pavilion—the Finnish Pavilion had a skeleton consisting of a type of mass-produced scaffolding leaving only the front fašades free—the development of a free architectural form was necessary."

—Karl Fleig. Alvar Aalto. p124.

"Aalto's success in winning in 1938 the competition for the Finnish Pavilion to be built in New York for the 1939 World's Fair, following immediately on the heels of his success with the Paris Pavilion and the construction of the Villa Mairea, was his crowning achievement for the second half of the 30s."

—Malcolm Quantrill. Alvar Aalto: a Critical Study. p92.

The Creator's Words

"An exhibition should be what in the early days it used to be, a general store: in which all possible objects are grouped together in a dense display—whether it be fish, cloth or cheese. Therefore in this pavilion I have attempted to provide the densest possible concentration of display, a space filled with wares, next to and above and beneath each other, agricultural and industrial products often just a few inches apart. It was no easy work—composing the individual elements into one symphony."

—Alvar Aalto. from Karl Fleig. Alvar Aalto. p130.


The competition was in 1937, and the Pavilion was subsequently built 1938 to 1939.

"The 52-ft.-high Pavilion consisted of four stories in all. The uppermost series of photographs showed the Country; the next, the People; the third, somewhat lower down, Work, and finally the bottom series depicted the results of the above three factors—the Products."

"The interior finish was of wood with different profiles so formed as to create an harmonic rhythm of materials and photographic presentations. The materials used in the construction of the wall surfaces were also treated as objects on exhibit."

"The roof, too, was used as exhibit area: aeroplane propellors of pressed wood, a Finnish specialty, churned the air both as objects on display and as a source of ventilation."

—Karl Fleig. Alvar Aalto. p124-130.

Sources on Finnish Pavilion, 1939

"The History of Interior Design", by John Pile, ArchitectureWeek No. 65, 2001.0905, pC1.1.

Francis D. K. Ching. Architecture: Form, Space, and Order. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1979. ISBN 0-442-21535-5. LC 79-18045. NA2760.C46. interior perspective, p40. — A nice graphic introduction to architectural ideas. Updated 1996 edition available at

Karl Fleig. Alvar Aalto. Scarsdale: Wittenborn, 1963, Vol.I. NA1455.F53A22. p124-130.

Malcolm Quantrill. Alvar Aalto: A Critical Study. New York: Schocken Books, 1983. ISBN 0-8052-3845-X. NA1455.F53A237. p83.

William S. Saunders. Modern Architecture—Photographs by Ezra Stoller. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Publishers, 1990. ISBN 0-8109-3816-2. interior photo, p42. — A wonderful & inspiring book of beautiful photographs by the master of architectural photography. Available at

Goran Schildt. Alvar Aalto, the Decisive Years.

Kevin Matthews. The Great Buildings Collection on CD-ROM. Artifice, 2001. ISBN 0-9667098-4-5.— Available at  Find books about Finnish Pavilion, 1939


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