Through the Eyes of Shigeru Ban
Aalto's architecture will be interpreted and reinterpreted by younger
generations for a long time to come. In the 1960s, the US architect and
theorist Robert Venturi believed his curvaceous plans fit in with the
cause of populist, anti-Bauhaus postmodernism. Conversely, in the 1980s,
Aalto was cited by the critic Kenneth Frampton as an antidote to the
crudely comic excesses of postmodernism. Frampton singled out Saynatsalo
as the epitome of "critical regionalism", a local architecture imbued
with critical intelligence. Today, Ban and others see Aalto as a
champion of environmentally sound, progressive design.
As for the Finn himself, he was no saint. Fond of the bottle, something
of a philanderer, and certainly no soldier, even at a time when Finland
needed all hands to hold back Stalin's hordes, he nevertheless helped
give his country something of the character of responsible inventiveness
that continues to drive its economy and society today.
The Barbican show is an experiment. It deserves to win us over, because
at its core is a message: that there are alternatives to overbearing,
"iconic", fit-anywhere architecture. Might Aalto and Ban have worked
together? "God created paper," Aalto wrote, "for the purpose of drawing
architecture on it. Everything else is, at least for me, an abuse of
paper." Ban does not draw buildings on paper so much as make buildings
from it. Aalto would probably have approved.