General

How an Oregon monastery became home to an architectural masterpiece

How an Oregon monastery became home to an architectural masterpiece

The Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, now recognized as one of the most important architects of the 20th century, completed some 300 buildings over a career that spanned more than 50 years. Only two are in the United States. One of them is in rural Oregon.

In 1963, Father Barnabas Reasoner, the librarian of Mount Angel Abbey, sent Aalto, then at the height of his career, an unsolicited letter asking him to design a new library for the Benedictine monastery. Improbably, Aalto said yes. He had an affinity for libraries — “libraries are my favourite projects” he wrote back to Father Barnabas — and he frequently worked with religious institutions. He may also have been intrigued by the project’s location in Oregon. Like Oregon, Finland had a robust forest industry, which Aalto had connections to.