The problems discussed in forums such as that within the European Charter for Solar Energy in Architecture and Urban Planning are still up-to-date.1 The role architecture plays in energy consumption calls for a conceptual reorientation that ensures a responsible design approach to the environment and the use of renewable resources based on local conditions.

In this sense, the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto (1898–1976) figures as a pioneering precedent of a sustainable architecture. The Nordic climate and the deeply nature-concerned culture within which he lived are factors that derived a conscious design method characterised by the exploration of environmental concepts. The contextual approach was developed since his early career and reached a peak in his own summer house erected in Finland in the year 1953. As Aalto himself comments, this building had the advantage of being the ‘experimental game' of the architect, where he could freely work without worrying about the constraints of usual project requirements.2

The biography of Aalto shows that he used to help his father, who was a surveyor, by drawing plans from the Finnish territory.3 Aalto himself grew up in Jyväskylä, a town located on the same lake studied here, and worked there in the first years of his professional career. He was familiar with the landscape and knew well in advance the general features of the house's surroundings.

The Summer House is a well-known building that has drawn attention in the academic context. Aalto published a seminal, brief text when the construction of the main block was finished, where experiments concerning topographical adaptation, material durability, and solar heating passive systems are mentioned.4 After appearing in the complete work of the architect,5 the Summer House was briefly mentioned in critical literature,6 and in recent years has been the subject of numerous studies.7 This panorama has contributed important information about the site and the house, which were, nevertheless, considered mainly by aesthetical and typological means. The bioclimatic themes seem to have not been systematically explored yet.

The present essay seeks to identify and explain some design strategies that can illustrate the bioclimatic structure of the building.8 The textual argumentation is supported by photographs, diagrams, and a physical model. An introduction to the house is given by describing its geographical and programmatic situation. The study is then developed through the following topics: site and program; placement; spatial organization; and exterior-interior relations. As a conclusion, the house is evaluated as a precedent of an environmentally-concerned architecture.

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Author notes


Assistant Professor, Department of Architecture, Urbanism and Applied Arts, Federal University of Sao Joao del-Rei,