At the Barbican

Peter Campbell

The work of the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto is celebrated in an exhibition of drawings, photographs, models and furniture, Alvar Aalto through the Eyes of Shigeru Ban, at the Barbican Art Gallery until 13 May.

Although he designed nothing in Britain, much in the exhibition feels familiar. Materials (brick, tile, wood) and informal layouts bring to mind postwar English housing and town planning. In other English buildings the influence is direct. Colin St John Wilson was a friend and admirer. Sources for the steep roofs, the vertical accent (the clock tower), the plain brick walls, wave-profiles in entrance hall ceilings and the careful modulation of light in the reading rooms of his British Library can be found in Aalto’s work. He is more at home in England than the one or two Modernists of the first generation who actually did buildings here.

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