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Paimio Sanatorium

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Paimio Sanatorium * The spread of tuberculosis in Finland became the wars led to the construction of a number of sanatoria throughout the country.

* Paimio was chosen as the location for the sanatorium and there was a competition for its design which was resolved at the end of January 1929.

* Alvar Aalto’s proposal was placed first. In Aalto’s entry for the competition, the buildings were grouped in a Neo-Classical manner with sun balconies representing a more modern architectural approach. Lying in the sun on a balcony was part of the treatment for tuberculosis so that the balconies like these were an essential part of sanatorium architecture.

* The closed building mass first opens symmetrically and then develops its final articulated form with no fundamental change in the basic idea. The new design of Paimio is based firmly on new architecture.

* In 1928, Aalto made a fairly long trip to Paris via Holland, to take a look at some new buildings. Direct influences from the trip could be seen as clearly as when Aalto visited Sweden to look at contemporary buildings: Wilhelm Dudok in Holland (Hilversum Town Hall), Johames Duiker (Zonnerstraal Sanatorium), Le Corbusier (Villa Stein)

* Aalto absorbed the geometric dynamics of Zonnerstraal and created from it a distinctive modern model of his own.

* In its final form – Aalto increased the floor to floor height in the patients’ wing after the competition – Paimio Sanatorium rose above the pines to become a dominant feature in the ancient cultural landscape.

Technical equipment: * Each wing of the building and the functions within it form a unit of its own:
A-Wing: Patients’ wing with the sun balconies (most important architectonic element, facing south)
B-Wing: Common spaces – treatment rooms, dining hall, library
C-Wing: laundry, kitchens and staff accommodation
D-Wing: (single storey) – boiler room and heating plant

* Circulation centres on main entrance hall between A-Wing and B-Wing and the stairwell linked to it, which together gave access to the other wings of the building

* The entire building has a concrete frame

* Six floors of terraces are carried on an asymmetric concrete frame, which narrows towards the top of the building. In 1963, these sun terraces were glazed in.

* Aalto used flowing plastic forms as a fixed part of the building, on the roof terrace of the Sanatorium.

* Although the Paimio Sanatorium building represents Functionalism of a stylistically pure kind, there is an unambiguous duality about it. On the one hand, you have tradition and influences from elsewhere and on the other you have a creative innovativeness that is something quite new. In Paimio, this duality can be seen in the composition, which is both symmetrical and asymmetrical; a symmetrical and intimate inner courtyard is formed in front of the main entrance, while at the same time, the building masses spread out asymmetrically as part of nature.

* The intimacy of the entrance court is highlighted by the first light fitting that Aalto designed for external use. He called it 'Valonheittäjä' (Floodlight).

* The idea of continuity and movement is crystallised in the plastic form of the entrance canopy at Paimio Sanatorium. This idea links the symmetrical entrance court to the sun canopies of A-wing and the cylinder-shaped chimney of the boiler house, giving the overall composition a harmonious form.

* B-Wing: On the second floor, a common room, which is an extension of the dining hall, opens onto the landscape through a panoramic window. From the outside, the window appears as a purely Functionalist strip window, slightly raised from the surface, with load-bearing elements that cannot be seen at all. On the east elevation, on the other hand, the load-bearing elements are highlighted on the fifth and sixth floors and on the fourth floor too, but asymmetrically. The load-bearing columns and beams create an intermediate space that is emphasised by the indrawn part of the façade being painted in a shade of red.

* The Functionalist aspect of the building - the typical emphasis on technology of the period - is represented by various things such as the glass-walled lift shaft and the abundance of details in metal, both in the elevations and in the interior.

Psychological Spaces: * The entrance foyer works as a transitional circulation space between the wings that serve different functions. The original interior furnishings of the foyer including the pigeonholes for patients' slippers, emphasised the feeling of homeliness created for the long-stay patients. The stacking metal stool designed for the Sanatorium is in all probability the handwork of Aalto himself.

* For the foyer, Aalto designed a wooden arm chair, which was also shown at the Aato furniture exhibition in London in 1933. The character of the foyer was changed in 1956-58, when the Sanatorium began to change into an ordinary general hospital, and the foyer was given a curved reception desk. The alterations were designed by Aalto's own office.

* In the public spaces, the colour scheme of the Sanatorium is convergent with the neo-plastic art of the twenties and thirties: blue, yellow, grey and white. It creates a fresh and cheerful yet peaceful atmosphere. The staircase opens directly from the foyer forming a space that extends right through the building, into which daylight filters from both east and west.

* For many of the details of the building, Aalto tried hard to create standardised components that could be manufactured industrially. One of these was the staircase balustrade, which Aalto had also used in the Turun Sanomat office building in 1928-31. The influence of the Bauhaus* and German ideas about industrial design can be seen at Paimio. Along with the Bauhaus building, designed by Walter Gropius*, Paimio Sanatorium became a milestone in Rationalist architecture.

* The rooms in the patients' wing are arranged on the north side of the corridor. By siting the rooms on one side only, Aalto was able to bring natural light into the corridor and give the patients the feeling that they were in control of the space. It was natural to use contemporary strip windows in the corridor façade.

* For the patients' rooms, Aalto studied the angle of the sunlight in conjunction with the heating system. Sun blinds were fixed outside the windows to cut down solar gain. After lengthy deliberations about the cost, it was decided to go for an innovative, ceiling-mounted radiant heating system recommended by Aalto.

* In contrast to the public areas, the colour scheme of the patients' rooms was more traditional and intimate - bluish and greenish greys. Aalto had his own ideas about the ceilings of the patients' rooms, for example. "The ceiling of the room should be the colour of the sky," and because the ceiling was painted in darker tones, the lighting had to be arranged so that the part of the ceiling which reflected the light had to be painted in lighter tones.

* The patients' rooms were designed from start to finish in Aalto's office. The washbasins had to run silently and the spittoon had to be hygienic and easy to clean. The pipe work was concealed in the walls, whereas prior to this pipes were usually surface-fixed.

* A whole range of furniture that later became extremely well known, was designed for the building. One of the less common pieces was the wardrobe in the patients' rooms (also introduced as a standard furniture item in 1932). Its rounded corners made it easier to move about in such a small room and the base, which was raised up above floor level, made cleaning easier.

* The roof terrace on the patients' wing was used for treatment in summer and winter alike. Tuberculosis was treated with fresh air, so that sun beds suitable for external use were needed. They emerged as the result of some specialist design work, as did the 'winter sleeping bags' made of sheepskin that were part of the sun beds.

* The dining hall in B-wing is designed with an eye on the natural lighting. On the window side there is a double-height space, so that natural light filters into the farthest corner of the room and there are sun blinds outside to prevent glare.

* Today, the colour scheme of the dining hall is tinged by the rows of red chairs (1929), which on the basis of old photographs and conservation studies were originally either black or natural timber. The original colour scheme can be seen in the ceiling of the lower part, where the bluish and greenish greys are repeated.

* The ceiling light fittings designed for the dining hall had large golden 'shades' recessed into the ceiling, which were intended to increase the power of the indirect light.

* The lecture hall, at the east end of the dining-hall floor, was furnished with wooden chairs which later came to be known as the 'Paimio chair'. The structural idea of the chair was a moulded birch frame with a seat made of moulded plywood.

* It is typical of Rationalism that detailed design focused on the interior. This involved a good deal of research and the aim was to use the latest technology and everything it could offer.

* For Aalto, Functionalism was also a moral issue, about which he had made his views known in conjunction with the Stockholm architecture exhibition* in 1930


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