A new chapter in the history of the Nordic House: Elissa Aalto

This year 100 years have passed since the birth of architect Elissa Aalto. Elissa Aalto is an important figure in Finnish architectural history. Both through her own projects and for the work she did for many years with renovation, maintenance and protection of buildings by Alvar Aalto. For the Nordic House in Reykjavik, she was of crucial importance.

In the communication of the Nordic House’s history, the focus has been on the great Alvar Aalto and on his close and equal collaboration with his first wife Aino Aalto. Even though Aino had passed away 20 years before the Nordic House was inaugurated, she is the one who has been present. We have two meeting rooms called Aino and Alvar – the small one Aino and the large Alvar. We even have two ducks in the pond outside called Aino and Alvar. Elissa, on the other hand, was not visible.

But when we started the research for the upcoming renovation, we found her in the archive: in documents, in drawings and in handwritten letters. She was the one who, in close collaboration with the project architect Ilona Lehtinen, completed the drawings for the construction. De facto she in practice managed Alvar Aalto’s agency already during the 1960s. After his death in 1976, she did so until her death in 1994 and was thus responsible for all changes and renovations in the Nordic House during its first 25 years.

To mark this and her anniversary, we last week organised a seminar entitled Female Pioneers and Historic Buildings. At the end of the program, we raised a toast to Elissa and unveiled the new name of our auditorium, Auditorium Elissa.

Exalting the male genius is typical of modernism, now it’s time to rewrite history.