Completed in 1933, the Paimio Sanatorium is a former tuberculosis sanatorium designed by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. The project has been canonized as an internationally recognized masterpiece of modern architecture, and it is often considered the breakthrough of Alvar Aalto. In 1960, the building was converted into a general hospital.
Paimio Sanatorium Technical Information
- Architect: Alvar Aalto
- Location: Paimio, Finland
- Type: Hospital
- Project Year: 1929-1933
- Photographs: © Fabrice Fouillet
Building art is a synthesis of life in materialised form. We should try to bring in under the same hat not a splintered way of thinking, but all in harmony together.
– Alvar Aalto
Paimio Sanatorium Photographs
Aalto received the design commission at the age of 30 after winning the architectural competition for the project held in 1929. Nestled in the woods in southwestern Finland, the building was completed in 1933 and soon after received critical acclaim both in Finland and abroad. Though the building represents the ‘modernist’ period of Aalto’s career and followed many of the tenets of Le Corbusier’s pioneering ideas for modernist architecture (e.g., ribbon windows, roof terraces, machine aesthetic), it also carried the seeds of Aalto’s later move towards a more synthetic approach. For instance, the main entrance is marked by a nebulous-shaped canopy, unlike anything being designed by the older generation of modernist architects.
The building was groundbreaking and was of key importance to the international career of the architect. Together with Vyborg (Viipuri) Library, completed two years later, it gave Aalto an international profile. Finnish architecture was no longer merely the receiver of influences from outside. A tuberculosis sanatorium was particularly suitable for a building that followed the new functionalism tenets, where bold concrete structures and state-of-the-art building services were inseparable elements of architecture and practicality. Aalto’s starting point for the design of the sanatorium was to make the building itself a contributor to the healing process. He liked to call the building a “medical instrument.”
The architect-designed the interior color scheme, including the yellow floors in the main staircase, the colorful walls in the corridors, the dark ceilings in the patients’ rooms, and the orange balcony rails, in conjunction with the decorative artist Eino Kauria.
According to use, the whole structure, grouped in several sections, was built following Aalto’s philosophy, right down to the smallest details of the furniture. As far as the furniture was concerned, a good many items designed specifically for the sanatorium were used and standard products that were already available. According to the idea of standardization, which belonged to the times’ spirit, these items were also planned for use elsewhere. For example, many of the light fittings ended up in the catalog of the Taito metalworks.
The pieces of furniture became key products for Artek, which was founded in 1935. For instance, the bent plywood Paimio chair has become an international design icon that is still in production nowadays. On the other hand, the three-legged stool, which is the same age as the sanatorium, was not included in the first phase of the furniture supplied by the Otto Korhonen furniture works. The furniture in the patients’ rooms was dominated by tubular-steel construction, soon to be spurned by the Aaltos.
The patient bedrooms generally held two patients, each with his or her own cupboard and washbasin. Aalto designed special non-splash basins so that the patient would not disturb the other while washing.
The patients spent many hours lying down, and thus Aalto placed the lamps in the room out of the patients’ line of vision and painted the ceiling a relaxing dark green to avoid glare. Each patient had their own specially designed cupboard, fixed to the wall and off the floor to help clean beneath it.
An operating theatre wing designed by Aalto’s office was added to the main building in the late 1950s, and new staff living-quarters were erected nearby in the 1960s. The sinuous, serpentine row of shared flats in the middle of the pine forest, known to the inmates as the ‘Hall of Vipers, brought a new form of accommodation to the area.
Paimio Sanatorium Plans
Paimio Sanatorium Image Gallery
About Alvar Aalto
Hugo Alvar Henrik Aalto (1898 – 1976) was a Finnish architect and designer. His work includes architecture, furniture, textiles, and glassware, as well as sculptures and paintings. However, he never regarded himself as an artist, seeing painting and sculpture as “branches of the tree whose trunk is architecture.” Aalto’s early career ran in parallel with Finland’s rapid economic growth and industrialization during the first half of the 20th century. Many of his clients were industrialists.
Other works from Alvar Alto