Alvar Aalto: Why I dig Architecture: Mt. Angel Library

September 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

I visited Mt Angel, Oregon with a sole purpose.


See a piece of architecture that was not set in a sprawling metropolis, not designed for a merchant tycoon, and that required some work to get to.


Mt. Angel library is part of the Mr. Angel Monastery, completed in1970  by Alvaar Aalto,  settles quietly into a hillside overlooking the beautiful Oregon farming community just south of Portland. The history of the library isn’t all that interesting – the abbey needed a new library and the benefactors thought Aalto a great architect to request a design from and needed a new one.  Aalto was asked and he accepted – simple. He visited the site maybe twice, probably only after construction.

What resulted was the first time I found peace from “architecture”, not from an idea or from a long night of work, or a particular solution  – but from being inside a well designed building.  Now, the extent I knew of architecture at that time was –  Frank Lloyd Wright was really important and that nobody is an architect anymore. The layout is in a flowering shell shape that feels like a fluid gesture of someone with vision and the confidence of the technical.  The consistent north light comes from the incisions in the ceiling, and come streaming down  to the multiple floors of tiered shelves and reading booths.

It was what a library should be, and what architecture should strive for.  I learned that day the gesture of the line can become something much more important than what the word embodies, and with some patience and persistence it can become something remarkable. Unlike anything I had encountered, it was planned for a result in mind and that result was reached. There was no criticism deserved, it was honest about what the library needed and delivered. And that is why I dig Architecture (or mostly).


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