Aalto's lifetime spanned a mass migration of the Finns from the country
to the cities. One of his preoccupations at the time I met him was how
one could arrive at a modern expression of civic pride. He walked me
around the giant model of his plan for the Töölö Bay area of Helsinki:
lake, park and concert hall, a museum of architecture, art gallery and
library, a building for the Academy of Finland. Of this vision of the
fusion of nature and national culture, only the white marble Finlandia
Hall was completed as he planned it. But Aalto's concept of informal
modern monumentalism, our lasting need for celebratory and ruminative
buildings, has been influential. The British Library, for instance,
Colin St John Wilson's St Pancras masterpiece, is very Aalto-esque.

Aalto took me to lunch at the Savoy, the elegantly luxurious Helsinki
restaurant he designed in 1937, another of his love poems to his patron,
Marie Gullichsen. It was for the Savoy restaurant that Aalto's now
iconic Savoy vase was first designed. Smoked reindeer tongue was on the
menu and, as I remember, a lot of schnapps was drunk. Aalto talked with
some emotion about Viipuri Library, one of his seminal early buildings
which had disappeared with the Russian occupation and was believed to
have been destroyed.

Its rediscovery in the late 1980s, neglected but not irrevocably
damaged, was for Aalto admirers a little miracle. Gradually, in a
delicate matter of cooperation between the Finns and Russians, the
building is being carefully restored. The spectacularly undulating
timber ceiling in the lecture hall, removed by the Russians, has now
been reconstructed. It is sad to think that Aalto, who died in 1976,
will never know it exists once more. He profoundly understood the
transitory nature of global architecture - how, in a war-torn landscape,
the buildings come and go.