Saturday, 17 March 2012

Jyväskylä: Alvar Aalto in C major

The snow that covers the grounds of the main campus of University of Jyväskylä is crispy in the afternoon sunshine. I'm about to walk straight through the campus but stop to look at the snow sculptures between the apple trees of Aallonpuisto (Aalto's Park) and the university main building. I suppose the creations have been made by schoolchildren, not students at the university...
The university main building by architect Alvar Aalto is known simply as "C" among both staff and students. That's all it says in the signs around the campus as well but originally, the C stands for Capitolium. I doubt many people have heard that.
Alright, I'll step in and do a little exploring. The lobby houses a café the name of which reminds you of the architect: Aallokko (waves; Aalto = a wave) but it was originally called Belvedere, probably because of the huge glass windows. The open cloakroom area is surrounded by a stylish curvy counter that clearly spells Aalto.
The side staircases from the lobby lead to the top part of the Festivity hall. The steps are white marble and the beautiful polished wood next to the black handrail also catches the eye.
The black handrail seems to continue forever, making a full turn right up to the door of C2, the top half of the Festivity hall. I've never really paid attention to these handrails before. It is so easy to not even notice that you're taking hold of something, walking forward and getting support from it. You just let go. You may have been holding something very beautiful in your hand.
I walk down the stairs and choose another entrance to the Festivity hall: the main one right in the middle of the lobby. As if by a miracle, the doors are open although there is no lecture or event going on! A group of architects seems to be visiting the building and thanks to them, I also get to see the hall open and lit up. This is quite an entrance.
Entering the lower part of the Festivity hall, C1, you'll see a curvier black handrail than the one that takes you to C2. Nice.
I walk up the stairs to get a good view of the whole Festivity hall. The hall's two parts C1 and C2 can together seat more than 700 people. I think that I've usually only been here in the evening or when it is dark and you don't even realize that there are windows up in the ceiling.
Entrance examinations, course exams, rock bands, symphony orchestras, lectures, official ceremonies. This hall has seen it all. It is a rare thing to see this space so empty.
And when you leave the Festivity hall, the handrail will guide you safely back to the lobby, after a concert, a lecture... Like a shepherd's rod.
To the right of the festivity hall the lobby reaches much higher and reveals a different combination of red bricks, skylights, structures and white surfaces.
The staircase leading upstairs also has beautiful handrails but these are wooden ones, in different shapes. A round handrail for a round column.
On the second floor the handrail is square. Aalto has played with shapes. I wonder if there are triangular ones somewhere? Again, I've never before noticed these details although I've spent hours and hours in this building!
The door to the lecture hall C4 is also invitingly open. The afternoon sunlight does its magic and paints another set of windows on the red brick wall.
This may be world famous architecture but I can assure you, the folding seats are not exactly comfortable to sit on for an hour or two.
The Aalto-designed chairs reserved for the teachers at the front seem much more comfortable.
I go back downstairs, slip into the corridor that takes me to the side wing of C building. This is where the Aalto library, or Aalto Reading Room is. The library has given in to today's technology; the reading tables are equipped with computers. Do students and researchers still come here to read books or do they focus on the computer screen? At least there is room for both.


  1. Pictures of hybrid libraries with old style (books) and new style (computers) will be unique to historians of the future when they write about us in the 21st century!

  2. Didn't think about that! Just think about a library a) today, without computers? or b) in the future, without books?