Maison Carré by Alvar Aalto
Carré had very specific ideas for his house, as he remembers in an interview with author Irmelin Lebeer:
"Le Corbusier influenced me greatly, but I was a little apprehensive of his slightly crude, 'cement' side... Especially a house with a roof: I wanted a roof, I don't know why, but I absolutely wanted a roof... I had several minor requirements: a room surrounded by books, for example, because I need to live with books. And above all, I didn't want anything luxurious... Above all I had told Aalto: I want a house where I can work... Also I told Aalto that I wanted a house built with materials that have lived."
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Aalto realized his client's wishes in his design for the Maison Carré, which is made of local stone from Chartres, lime-washed bricks, copper, and wood, and features a sloped roof made of slate.
The first view that meets the visitor from the winding driveway is the slanting line of the roof, whose imaginary continuation descends along the slightly sloping site and originally extended to the horizon in the open landscape. (Since the completion of the house, the trees on the site have grown and the view has been obscured.)
In the Maison Carré, horizontal and vertical lines are a main compositional element, articulating its volume and exterior facades with precision. The horizontality of the main entrance canopy is emphasized with tapering eaves, while elegant pillars with carpel-like wood articulation serve as a counterbalance.
Copper sheeting accentuates the border between the whitewashed brick and travertine stone used for the walls. The dynamic main entrance facade facing north is dominated by the triangle-shaped roofline, while the stepped rectangles of the east elevation interact with the volumes of the low protruding wings on the southern garden side.
Terraced stairs descending from the house toward the swimming pool form a podium from which the building rises.
In the Maison Carré, Aalto has perhaps created his strongest union of house and landscape. A similar monumentality exists only in the siting of the Muuratsalo Experimental House (1952-1953). In both, there is also a strong touch of Mediterranean culture.
The interior spaces have the same elegant quality as the exterior. Both the Maison Carré and the Villa Mairea are distinguished by their abundance of rich details and variety of materials, although each has a distinct character. The young architect of the Villa Mairea showed rich imagination and passion, which in the Maison Carré has grown into a mature and unified vision.
Here also many pieces of the furniture, lamps, and fittings were custom-made for the house, and Elissa Aalto (an architect, and Alvar's second wife) designed many of the textiles.
The main entrance hall is an inner landscape of the highest refinement, with a free-form vaulted ceiling of Finnish red pine, which covers the space like a cupola and draws the visitor into the living room. The wide steps between the hall and the living room accompany the downward movement, which visually continues toward the landscape outdoors.
The hall doubles as an art gallery, with paintings hung on the low partition walls. Its role as the heart of the house is again evident, as from it all public spaces can be reached. The transverse living room forms the final point of the meandering diagonal view that starts from the entrance. At its heart is a fireplace, situated opposite a horizontal panoramic window.
Paintings by Raoul Dufy, Fernand Léger, and Paul Klee were an inseparable part of the interior, as Louis and Olga Carré specifically chose artworks for the house.
The library Carré had requested repeats at a miniature scale the book pit space Aalto had developed for the Vyborg Library (1927-1935), where the interior is divided into different levels to offer quiet, almost enclosed reading spaces.
In the Maison Carré's small library, the bookcase similarly divides the room into two parts. Also on the ground floor are the master bedrooms and a guestroom, which were given privacy through their placement behind the partition walls. Each room offers direct access to the garden through attached private bathrooms. The second floor was occupied by servants' rooms.
After Louis Carré passed away in 1977, his wife, Olga, lived in the house until 2002. The Finnish Cultural Foundation bought the building in 2006 and donated it to the Association Alvar Aalto en France. The Maison Carré is regularly open to the public.
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Jari Jetsonen is a photographer and artist whose works have been published in numerous books and magazines. He has also taught at the Helsinki University of Technology (now part of Aalto University) and at Nihon University in Tokyo, Japan. Sirkkaliisa Jetsonen is an architect and author, and teaches in Aalto University's schools of science and technology and of art and design. The authors' other books include Finnish Summer Houses, Alvar Aalto Apartments, and Sacral Space: Modern Finnish Churches.
This article is excerpted from Alvar Aalto Houses by Jari Jetsonen and Sirkkaliisa Jetsonen, copyright © 2011, with permission of the publisher, Princeton Architectural Press.