Alvar Aalto and innovations in bending wood

Like his colleagues in continental Europe, Aalto had experimented with metal tubing and plywood for making furniture at the end of the 1920. Fascinated by the possibilities of using bentwood, the architect pursued further experiments in furniture design. At the end of the 1920s, Aalto discovered an open-minded collaborator in the form of the Turku-based furniture manufacturer, Otto Korhonen (1885–1935). As director of the firm, O.Y. Huonekalu- ja Rakennustyötehdas A.B., Korhonen had all the know-how and experience in using wood that Aalto needed.

The results of Aalto’s and Korhonen’s experiments led to many classics of furniture design. Their characteristic features, the flexible, “springy”, wooden framework of arms, legs and floor runners, are made of bentwood, while the seats are bent laminated plywood. Serial production and practicality were slogans of functionalism. The L-leg stool by Aalto had three legs precisely for that reason, allowing it to be stacked.

Aalto furniture formed the basis for selection of the sales and marketing organisation created for the purposes of selling modern design, Artek. The founding members of the company were Aino Marsio Aalto and Alvar Aalto, Mrs Gullichsen and the art critic Nils-Gustav Hahl. Artek’s activities also included organising art exhibitions, helping it develop into an international centre of modern art and industrial design ahead of its time.

Image: Cantilevered Chair 1932 by Alvar Aalto (Artek no. 42) © Photo: Maija Holma, Alvar Aalto Museum