Artek is a Finnish furniture company founded in 1935 by renowned architect Alvar Aalto and his wife Aino Aalto, visual arts promoter Maire Gullichsen and art historian Nils-Gustav Hahl. The founders chose a non-Finnish name, the neologism Artek was meant to manifest the desire to combine art and technology. This echoed a main idea of the International Style movement, especially the Bauhaus, to emphasize the technical expertise in production and quality of materials, instead of historical-based, eclectic ornamentation. Aalto was innovative and radical and became known for his experimental approach to bending wood. His style became known as human modernism. On the other hand, Aino had a strong, independent input for Artek: she designed some of the classics that are still in production today and also held the role of Managing Director. The core of the Artek product range consists of Alvar Aalto’s furniture and lighting pieces. The company carries on the Aalto tradition and spirit by renewing and re-issuing the designs that outlasts its original owners. Artek’s original values – long-term durability and high quality combined with a clean form language – are still the company’s driving forces.

Since 1992 Artek is owned by the privately held investment company Proventus AB, based in Sweden. The creative hub of the company is Artek STUDIO, the unit where new products and ideas are developed, continuously searching for new materials and questioning existing solutions for sustainable design. Concrete examples are the “2nd Cycle” stools and chairs. The 2nd Cycle collection was introduced in 2007 during the Milan International Furniture Fair, as a statement of conscious consumption. A coded RFID tag embedded in the 2nd Cycle stool records the furniture’s history, stories, as well as information about its origins and authenticity. Few furniture items have achieved such a long and multi-phased life span: Artek’s furnishings have touched the lives of children, students, the elderly – all members of the family, together and separately. These 2nd Cycle items are part of Artek’s environmental strategy and are a proof of authenticity, longevity and the graceful aging process of an original Artek product.

In 2010 the company extended its portfolio with the acquisition of production rights to Ilmari Tapiovaara’s iconic furniture collection. Ilmari Tapiovaara was a great admirer of Alvar Aalto’s work, and he wanted to create products based on the same ideological premises; the integration of his collection into the Artek catalog is a major effort towards joining together renowned Finnish design classics under one umbrella. Artek´s collection range also has some remarkable Tapio Wirkkala, Ville Kokkonen, Ben af Schultén and Nanna Ditzel designs. Today Artek continues to work in close collaboration with prominent international architects, designers and artists, such as Eero Aarnio, Shigeru Ban, Naoto Fukasawa, Harri Koskinen, Juha Leiviskä, Enzo Mari and Tobias Rehberger.

Keinu Rocking Chair by Eero Aarnio (1983)

Architect, critic, designer, entrepreneur, husband and friend but more than anything, somebody with a desire for expressing all these in wood, the main reason for what he pursued something that at that time was almost a dream: bending solid birch wood (the most abundant natural resource in Finland) in any angle desired. Extensive experimentation was performed; the successful result was the “bent knee” or “L-leg” with patents all over the world, becoming thus an inventor. This technique enabled him to express in wood the forms learned from Bauhaus like the cantilever which he used extensively in his designs and also was able to propose a wood solution to Breuer´s Model B3 chair  and many other great designs. Concerned with “humanizing architecture” he rejected artificial materials such as steel tubing for his furniture. Wood was for him a “form-inspiring, profoundly human material”. The span of his career from the 1920´s to the 1970´s is reflected in the styles of his work, ranging from Nordic Classicism of his early work, to a purist International Style Modernism during the 1930´s, to a more organic and personal modernist style from the 1940´s onwards. What is typical for his entire career, however, is a concern for design as a “whole”; whereby he – together with his first wife Aino – would design not just the building, but give special treatments to the interior surfaces and design furniture, lamps, furnishings and glassware. Alvar Aalto’s organic formal language inspired many designers after him.

…to be continued in part # 9

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