Elsa Kaisa “Elissa” Mäkiniemi was born on 22 November 1922 in Kemi, Northern Finland. She took her matriculation exam in Rovaniemi in 1941. She enrolled at Helsinki University of Technology to study architecture in 1942. Mäkiniemi took her diploma of architecture in 1949. Right after finishing her studies, she started working at the Aalto office.
In 1952 she married Alvar Aalto and took the name Elissa Aalto. Aino Marsio-Aalto had died in 1949. Elissa Aalto collaborated closely with her husband in all the major works of the office, so that Alvar Aalto’s career can be divided into a collaborative period with Aino Marsio-Aalto and Elissa Aalto. Since 1958 Elissa Aalto was a partner in the Aalto office.
Elissa Aalto worked as the principal designer of the office in the final years of Alvar Aalto. After Alvar’s death in 1976, she became the director of the Aalto office and the chairperson of Artek.
In her late-career she became known as a vocal advocate of the Alvar Aalto’s design legacy, future of the then fallen Viipuri library was one of her main concerns. She continued to work at the Aalto’s office until her death in 1994.
Elissa Aalto died on 12 April 1994, at the age of 71. She is buried in Helsinki, in the Hietaniemi cemetery, along with Alvar Aalto and Aino Marsio-Aalto.