Architectural Dooz-Gest: Alvar Aalto, Aquarius

By Alla Kazovsky –

 

Welcome to Architectural Dooz-Gest, a 12-part series about architectural icons and their sun signs.

 

First, let me make a disclaimer. I am not an astrologer, not yet. Therefore, my notes below are not based on first-hand knowledge. Instead, they were excavated from various sources in support of curiosity in a conscious effort to use astrology as a tool for studying human nature. A practicing architect, I am focusing on architects (the ones I admire and aspire to emulate) and their contribution to the world as they embody the archetype of their Sun sign. Call it a research project into actualized potential.

Alvar Aalto, for example, was a true Aquarian. A carrier of ideas, he poured them out freely, intending them for everyone. With his sympathy for the human condition, he created a very personal brand of all-encompassing organic architecture. Through fusing opposites or combining conflicting qualities in a single project: monumental with intimate, practical with symbolic, respectful of local traditions with innovative, he pioneered environmental integration and ecological sustainability.

So inspiring and uplifting!

Alvar Aalto Savoy Vase Sketches, Source: Tumblr

Sorry, I have to slow down and set the stage. Before integrating Aalto’s accomplishments with his Aquarian traits, we need to assign Aquarius with its element, mode, polarity, and social standing. Astrologers employ birth charts, but in order to cast one, we need an accurate time of birth, which is not available. It’s ok. We’ll take that into consideration and keep the spotlight on the architect’s success and mastery, as defined by the Sun, the organizing principle.

Frank Clifford in his Getting to the Heart of Your Chart explains that the self-expressive and exuberant Sun moves through approximately one degree of the zodiac in 24 hours; this means that everyone born on that day will have the Sun within a degree of each other. Alvar Aalto was born on February 3, 1898 in Kuortane, Finland.

As we know, the zodiac wheel in its present form contains twelve equal pie-shaped segments systematically arranged into several sequences of energies. Let’s take a look at what they are.

Element

The first sequence of energies is the four elements. Starting with Aries, the fire, we have earth, air, and water. It repeats three times. Aquarius is an air sign. Air moves horizontally and is conceptually connected with the movement of ideas. It is associated with thinking and logic.

Modality

The second sequence is three four-sign combinations forming a cross representing three modes of creativity. Starting with Aries, they are: cardinal, fixed, and mutable. Combined with the elements, the crosses help distinguish each sign from any other. This means that in each elemental triangle there is one cardinal, one fixed, and one mutable sign. Aquarius is a fixed sign, which symbolizes stability or ability to preserve and sustain what already has been created with stubborn persistence.

Polarity

The third sequence is that of polarity: positive and negative. The positive are fire and air signs. The negative are earth and water. Aquarius is a positive sign, which is usually more objectively oriented, outgoing, and interested in what is going on around them (vs. a negative or subjective sign, focused on internal experience).

Orientation

The fourth sequence divides the signs into individual (Aries through Virgo) and social (Libra through Pisces). Aquarius is a social sign, as five others in the second half of the zodiac. It represents an issue similar to its opposite (complementary) sign in the first half, but with the emphasis on the collective, rather than on the individual. Leo is concerned with ego on the personal level, whereas Aquarius’ ego is subordinated in the service of a larger social unit.

In his book Horoscope Symbols, Robert Hand writes: “The fixed air sign, Aquarius, symbolizes the effort to understand the relation of everything and everyone to everything else without centering that understanding on the self or limiting the experience to one-to-one relationships.” Aquarians like to act as equals among equals. Interestingly, both of Aalto’s wives were his business partners and collaborators.

In his own words, Aalto’s overarching objective was to create an ideal environment for all of humanity: “Architecture has an ulterior motive which always lurks, so to speak, around the corner: the thought of creating paradise. It is the only purpose of our houses.”

Alvar Aalto Stools, Source: Finnstyle

Aquarius, a social sign, relates to others through group consciousness and interaction.

“…On a higher level skepticism is transformed into its apparent opposite, to love with a critical sensibility… It can result in such love for the little man that it functions as a kind of guardian when our era’s mechanized lifestyle threatens to strangle the individual and the organically harmonious life.”

Aalto aspired to use individual architectural cases to experiment and develop techniques that might be available to everyone. His resolve to serve the common man can be demonstrated with Hansaviertel Apartments, Berlin, Germany (1955-57). He adapted a courtyard house idea to a multi-family ten-story building instilling the feeling of a single-family home within the confines of a small flat.

Hansaviertel Apartments, Berlin, Germany (1955-57), Source: Flickr

As an air sign, Aquarius is excellent at observing, planning, and organizing. Able to combine abstract and practical, it is also excellent for creative, original thinking.

“We may define the ideal outcome of architecture as being that a building should serve as an instrument which mediates all the positive influences and intercepts all the negative influences affecting man… a building cannot carry out this task unless it is itself as finely nuanced as the surroundings in which it stands.”

Aalto aimed to satisfy social and psychological criteria through his life-giving work. For instance, Aalto conceived of the Paimio, the tuberculosis sanatorium as a “medical instrument.” In Paimio, completed in 1932, he carefully arranged the two-person wards to meet the patient’s needs not only at the level of environmental control, but also in terms of identity and privacy. Direct light and heat were kept away from the patient’s head, while ceilings were painted to reduce glare, and washbasins were designed to function noise-free.

Alvar Aalto, Paimio Sanatorium, Source: Finnish Design Shop

Aquarians have out-of-the-ordinary idealistic objectives; they are altruistic, working for the benefit of humanity as a whole.

“What an architect says does not mean a damn thing, what counts is what he does.”

Aalto aspired to create a new ideal — from site to furniture design. Although enthusiastic about industrial mass production, he was concerned that modern objects made of metal resemble machines that manufacture them. In response, Aalto invented a number of techniques to mass-produce bent-plywood furniture, a low-tech application of Finland’s most abundant natural resource.

His Paimio Chair was conceived to provide the optimum position for tuberculosis patients’ ease of breathing, which the architect determined through consultations with doctors. First made for the sanatorium, it was subsequently put into production for the world market.

Paimio Chair, Source: Chairish

Aquarian success depends on their influence on those they are associated with.

“Human imagination must have free room in which to unfold.”

Aalto’s genuine affinity for wood lead to the most important patronage of his career: Finland’s major forestry-product enterprises. In return, he gave them an international showcase. In fact, the Finnish Pavilion at the 1939 New York’s World Fair was regarded as the highlight of the exposition. Its 54-foot high display space resembled an abstracted forest clearing, and Frank Lloyd Wright (a Gemini) proclaimed Aalto to be a genius upon visiting it!

Aquarians are visionaries.

“Nature, not the machine, is the most important model for architecture.”

Aalto’s most famous house, an aristocratic Villa Mairea (1937-39), was an opportunity to rethink the typology of the upper-class residence. Instead of focusing on conventional trappings of wealth, he created paradise with naturally lit space. Luxury here was defined by taking part in the flowing dialogue between the trees and the sky beyond the vast (and very expensive) window walls. Subsequently, his visionary approach led to a reordering of values, having a tremendous international influence ever since.

Villa Mairea (1937-39), Source: Pinterest

Aquarian radical independence of mind leads to development of new techniques.

“One of the most difficult architectural problems is the shaping of the building’s surroundings to the human scale.”

Aalto’s attitude toward building in the landscape consistently remained the same throughout his long and prolific career. He aimed to celebrate the attributes of the land, enhancing its prominence. When the qualities of the site were limited, Aalto constructed the landscape —both inside and out.

– Alla Kazovsky

 

Feeling Inspired? Shop Alvar Aalto:

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Cover image courtesy of Pinterest

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