From a distance Aalto’s block for the 1957 housing exhibition appears as a slightly cranked slab block. This does, in fact, represent the strategy of the block above the ground level. However, entry is via a void between the two outer parts of the block. The groundscape of this entry void does not follow the outline of the building above – it extends in places beyond the outline of the upper block. The groundscape is a plinth (base or platform) that subtly reaches out into the surrounding site to ease residents into the entry lobbies. It is a covered exterior space paved with cobble stones to maintain the sense of exteriority. Note that the cobble stone ground continues beyond the plinth level out into the landscape. The structural columns interrupt the void space exposing the geometrical resolution of the crank in the slab above (see the paired columns in the middle of the space. Their spacing appears irregular but follows a strategy that sets up a central space within the void. The idea of this void as a continuation of the exterior is reinforced by the resolution of the railings which ‘float’ over the plinth ground. It is only where walls lead into the lobbies that the low wall railings meet the ground, as if to begin the process of constructing an interior. This is further accentuated by two steps leading up to the lobby doors. The void is articulated with benches that provide various focal points within the void, as does the paint scheme on the ceiling.
There are different points of integration between the plinth and the overall slab-form. On one side it is made by the grey band that continues around the entire building, making a material distinction between the zone that touches the ground and the white exterior surface of the dwellings. On the other side, where the ground drops more dramatically away from the plinth level, the outer surfaces are painted white and seems to continue the building form right down to the ground (although the grid patterning isn’t replicated in this area.
The key lessons here are:
- The idea of an exterior room as a threshold
- The use of a plinth to mediate building and ground
- The development of the plinth as an element in itself (it does not follow the outline of the building above)
- The reaching out into the site to mark and draw residents inside
- The use of structure to articulate zones and spaces in the void
- The reinforcement of spatial ideas through material decisions
- The reinforcement of spatial ideas through detail decisions (‘floating railings’)