Eco-builder Will Anderson remembers a Finnish house that was a sight for sore (and hungover) eyes. A west London hospital, however, just makes him sick
If you seek debauchery, try a Scandinavian ferry. Disembarking from the Stockholm-Turku overnight boat I was breathalysed, soundly ticked off and told to drive on. On the stark road north I was sick three times, arriving in the listless town of Noormarkku with a hangover to raise the dead. Only when we entered the forest did this horror finally give way to the sublime.
Alvar Aalto’s Villa Mairea is a building to fall in love with. The abundant natural light, warm finishes, generous spaces and exquisite details express a quiet joyfulness. A clear modernist sensibility is enriched by a deep response to setting: the forest became part of the house just as the house became part of the forest. It is not an eco-house by today’s standards but it exemplifies the potential of nature as an inspiration for architecture.
Fifteen years earlier, another long drive took me from my childhood home in Scotland to the steps of Charing Cross hospital in Hammersmith, west London. This grim cruciform tower block spurns its environment, mocking the low-rise housing beneath it and extending its four high-temperature limbs into the cold London air. Nobody builds hospitals like this any more.
Will Anderson is a self-builder and the author of Diary of an Eco-Builder, Green Books, £14.95