Aalto´s tuberculosis sanatorium in Paimio

Buildings designed by Alvar Aalto (1898–1976), the pre-eminent Finnish master of architecture, are deeply rooted in the culture and the landscape of Finland. It was the white, clean-lined Paimio Sanatorium, built in 1930–33, that not only brought Aalto international recognition, but also first put Finland on the international map of modern architecture. Renamed in 1971 as the Paimio Hospital, Aalto’s masterpiece of Functionalism is currently, in accordance with the World Heritage Convention, on the Finnish World Heritage Tentative List.

Paimion sairaala_ulkokuvaThe functional shapes and structural solutions of the Paimio Sanatorium, located on a large woodland site some 30 km (18 miles) east of Turku, have inspired and influenced generations of architects all over the world and still annually attract thousands of Aalto enthusiasts — laymen and professionals alike — from all corners of the globe. On arriving at Aalto’s sanatorium, they will be astonished to enter a well-maintained hospital which has been in continuous use as a medical facility since its foundation and where patients are attended to in a light, spacious environment. Indeed, Aalto’s design still retains much of its unique character and timeless value, and the impressive façade and the original main lines and numerous fine details of the interior design have remained more or less intact. Even today, visitors will be captivated by Aalto’s comprehensiveness of approach when creating the building complex 80 years ago. 

Aalto’s architecture for human welfare

As the incidence of pulmonary tuberculosis took on alarming proportions in Finland in the 1920s, a number of isolation hospitals for centralised care of TB patients were built in Finland, too. The most noted of these, the Paimio Sanatorium, was sited in a sandy terrain among pine trees fitting the hospital’s functional requirement of isolation. To maximise access to natural light and solar gain for patients, the main building was placed on the top of a hill and oriented in the north-south direction, a large roof terrace with wide views over the surrounding landscape was built and a south-facing sun balcony at the end of each patient floor was added. 

Aalto’s winning design in a 1929 competition at a remarkably early age of thirty features harmonious integration with nature and his attention to the human side of architecture, but also shows his growing interest in standardisation. As an innovative and radical man with a social conscience, Aalto brought to his design a profound concern for the diverse physical and psychological needs of patients with tuberculosis. Considerable emphasis was laid upon the peacefulness of the environment, hygiene and user comfort as well as humane, sustainable solutions. As can be seen in the remaining original patient room, now serving as a museum, great efforts were made to rethink and redesign heating, lighting and furniture — almost every element — to best suit the patients. 

English text by Nina Palmgren.