February 1, 2009
by Canadian Architect
The tenth Alvar Aalto Medal has been awarded to the Danish architectural practice Tegnestuen Vandkunsten. Representatives of the team received the award at the headquarters of the Social Insurance Institution of Finland (KELA) designed by Alvar Aalto. This is the first time that the Alvar Aalto Medal was awarded to a team of architects instead of an individual. Since its establishment in 1967, the Alvar Aalto Medal has been awarded approximately every five years to persons with significant achievements in creative architecture.
For almost 40 years now, Tegnestuen Vandkunsten has focused on residential architecture and housing developments. In this field, the group has been a pioneer and trendsetter with designs characterized by convertibility, communality, residential involvement, dense low-rise, and sustainable development – long before they became buzzwords in residential architecture and policies.
Working as a team and recognizing social dynamics have been the necessary prerequisites and main source of inspiration for the creative work produced by Vandkunsten’s 30 designers. For Vandkunsten, social awareness is also a source of beauty which does not compromise their ability to retain a firm grip over aesthetically perfected and innovative spaces, forms and materials.
Vandkunsten is a link that combines the best traditions of the Nordic welfare society with those of Nordic architecture. Vandkunsten’s work is a modern interpretor and elaborator of Alvar Aalto’s ideological heritage.
The overarching principles applied by Vandkunsten to design were crystallized in the office’s early works – the best known being Tinggården, an innovative residential district near Køge. Spatial solutions derived from the immediate environment that promoted social coherence; the minimization of construction costs through the use of advanced technology and simple materials; and the relaxed yet modern expression of the Danish traditions were widely emulated in the 1980s.
Dianas Have at Hørsholm in Denmark, and Hestra Parkstad in Sweden serve as models of the 1990’s row-house districts in which the narrow “fingers” of buildings giving out to the surrounding landscape pave the way for new types of dwelling designed with true insight into needs of the residents. The elegant details of the interiors and exterior and innovative use of materials enhance the daily life of the people in an exemplary manner.
Worth a special mention is the conversion of the Torpedo Boat Shipyard at Holmen Copenhagen into a block of flats at the turn of the millennium. In this project, the challenging starting point inspired the designers to create a unique place in which to live. In several other recent works, such as the Sømærk at Teglværkshavnen and the Ørestaden blocks in Copenhagen, Vandkunsten has also succeeded in introducing earthbound social, spatial and functional elements to multi-storey residential construction.
Vandkunsten’s works are characterized by creative use of the composition of the landscape. Prime examples of this are Det Blå Hjørne (the Blue Corner, 1989) in Copenhagen’s Christanshavn which defies orthodox ideas of harmony, and their winning entry to the recent Kløvermarken zoning competition, again in Copenhagen, in which the edges of a central park area are boldly adorned with a new type of housing and building block typologies.
The Alvar Aalto Medal is awarded every five years or so to “persons with significant achievements in creative architecture.” The medal, designed by Alvar Aalto, is awarded by the Ministry of Education, the Finnish Association of Architects SAFA, the Museum of Finnish Architecture, the Finnish Society of Architecture and the Alvar Aalto Foundation. The institutions have their nominees in the medal jury which also includes two non-Finnish members. This time, the jury comprised the architects Anna Brunow, Mikko Heikkinen (Chairman), Juha Ilonen, Pekka Pakkala and Matti Rautiola, with Yoshio Taniguchi and Gert Wingårdh.
Previous medallists are:
1967 Alvar Aalto
1973 Hakon Ahlberg (Sweden)
1978 James Stirling (UK)
1982 Jørn Utzon (Denmark)
1985 Tadao Ando (Japan)
1988 Alvaro Siza (Portugal)
1992 Glenn Murcutt (Australia)
1998 Steven Holl (USA)
2003 Rogelio Salmona (Colombia)
The Finnish Association of Architects (SAFA) is a non-profit, professional organization open to all architects with a university degree from a Finnish university or equivalent qualification from another country. SAFA has close to 3,000 members, which accounts for some 80 percent of all Finnish architects with a university degree.