Finnish Glass

This is not a sensor. It’s the Iittala display of designer drinking glasses on Helsinki’s fashionable Pohjoisesplanadi. No relation to Italy; Iittala is the famous company from a town of the same name 124 km northwest of Helsinki.

Premiered in 1937 at the Paris World’s Fair, Alvar Aalto’s vase is an iconic Finnish glass design sold in most modern museum shops worldwide.

Speculation as to its shape ranges from the famous designer’s sketches of “The Eskimo Woman’s Leather Breeches” to the fluid lines of the Finnish landscape. Iittala manufactures Alvar Aalto’s works in a variety of colors and sizes.

Another legendary Finnish designer was Kaj Franck, whose work is featured in a comprehensive exhibit at the Helsinki Design Museum through September 25.

Franck was originally opposed to crediting the designer for work mass produced by a team.  However, like motion picture credits, most Finnish glass today bears the name of its designer.

While pondering this and the elegant shape of a glass decanter in Helsinki’s Savoy Restaurant, designed by Aino and Alvar Aalto on its eighth floor perch, another question pops up. With all this great glass know-how, why didn’t they build camera lenses?

The answer is probably historical, geographical and meteorological.

Geographically, cine lenses have been manufactured between the 40th and 50th parallel: Oberkochen, Wetzlar, Jena, Leicester, Saint-Héand, Rochester. These are all cities that thrived in the industrial revolution on precision machinery and textiles, powered by coal and water. Helsinki is close to 60 degrees north with long, dark winters not conducive to inspecting precision optical surfaces.

So, when Nokia decided to build the world’s finest camera phone, they headed south to Oberkochen for a visit to ZEISS–which is precisely where we are heading next.


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