Vulnerable by Design: Theft and Finnish Architecture

Thomas, S. (2014), ‘Vulnerable by Design: Theft and Finnish Architecture’, The Historic Environment 5(3): 231–44.

This paper examines the apparently growing phenomenon of architectural and design theft in Finland. Finnish design is world-renowned, with key architects and designers, not least the iconic modernist Alvar Aalto, achieving recognition and admiration on a global level. Many key modernist buildings within Finland are protected by various laws, as are, in some cases, their internal fixtures, and objects of design over fifty years of age of which a limited series has been produced legally require an export licence. However, in recent years the demand overseas for vintage Nordic design seems to have led to architectural theft and illegal exportation. Vulnerable objects range from easy-to-remove door handles through to entire sets of railings, meaning that original furniture in public buildings is no longer safe. This paper discusses the possible causes for this phenomenon, examines the legal protection available for key design, and suggests possible measures for increasing protection of this twentieth-century cultural heritage. A number of significant and recent case studies, particularly centring on the work of Alvar Aalto, are drawn upon to illustrate the situation.

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