Big retrospective of Aaltos’ work opens in Rome

“True architecture only exists when it is centered around human beings.” For Alvar Aalto, Aino Marsio and Elissa Mäkiniemi, this statement was the starting point for the creation of a revolutionary concept of architecture destined to leave an indelible mark on Europe and the world. It’s also the starting point of the first major retrospective of Aalto in Italy since the 1960s.

The exhibition AALTO – Aino Alvar Elissa. The Human Dimension of Design is open until May at the MAXXI National Museum of 21st -Century Arts in Rome.

“Human centric is the common thread, that links Aaltos’ different projects and fields of research: from workers’ clubs to town halls, from single-family homes to housing estates, from objects and furniture designed for everyday life to works with glass, textiles, lighting and children’s furniture”, Joseph Grima, curator of the exhibition and Paimio Sanatorium Foundation, says.

Behind every great man, there’s a woman. Behind Alvar Aalto there was actually two insightful, strong architects, Aino and Elissa Aalto respectively, which exhibition brings to front seat along with Alvar Aalto.

“In this exhibition we look at the Aaltos afresh, starting by considering them as a trio rather than an individual”, Joseph Grima continues.

Architect Aino Marsio, Alvar’s first wife, was fundamental in shaping the design philosophy of the studio in the early years. Their partnership would give rise to some of the studio’s most famous projects, such as The Paimio Sanatorium.

In 1952, three years after Aino’s untimely death, Alvar married Elissa Mäkiniemi, also an architect, initiating a new, fervent creative collaboration that would lead to an international opening unprecedented in the history of Finnish architecture.

The exhibition at MAXXI encompasses five decades of Studio Aalto’s work, as recounted through a selection of eleven of its most significant projects, realised from the 1920s to the early 1980s: the Muuratsalo Experimental House, the Civic Library of Vyborg, Villa Mairea in Noormarkku and the MIT dormitories in Cambridge USA.

Paimio Sanatorium, a in itself manifesto of Aaltos design ethos is naturally part of the exhibition, as it’s the building that would rocket the studio to international fame, conceived as a medical instrument capable of contributing to the healing of patients. Alvar Aalto loved Italy, and the feeling was very mutual. The Church and parish centre in Riola di Vergato, Italy, a posthumously-built project with a complex history symbolizes Aalto’s very special, often-reiterated bond with Italy.

All of the above testifies to an idea of architecture and design that is conceived for people, welcoming and functional, in balance with the environment and characterised by unmistakable fluid, undulating lines (in Finnish, aalto means precisely wave).

“Aaltos’ design ethos, as expressed in their work for the Paimio Sanatorium and body off their work as whole, teaches us that architecture isn’t just about constructing buildings; it’s about creating holistic systems that consider the physical, psychological, and emotional well-being of individuals and communities’’, Mirkku Kullberg CEO of Paimio Sanatorium Foundation, says of Aalto’s design philosophy.

“This wonderful exhibition proves that being human centric wasn’t just a a passing comment. It was a manifesto for a life’s work, and the start of a search for an entirely new understanding of architecture, a radical new approach as meaningful and current now as it was during Aaltos’ lifetime.” Mirkku Kullberg continues.


The Human Dimension of Design
14.12.2023 – 26.5.2024

MAXXI National Museum of 21st Century Arts
Via Guido Reni, 4A, Rooma


More than just a building, Paimio Sanatorium has become seen as a world-renowned masterpiece of modern architecture. Subscribe our Newsletter and be first to learn more about Paimio Sanatorium’s events and exhibitions.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.