Alvar Aalto Paimio Sanatorium

 

This small exhibition - described by Designmuseum Danmark as a "pop-up exhibition" - is based around two chairs from the permanent collection - Armchair No 42 and the Paimio Chair - also known as The Ring Chair - designed by Alvar Aalto and both used in the Paimio Sanatorium. The hospital in south-west Finland designed by Aalto was built specifically for the treatment of patients with tuberculosis - and was completed in 1933.

The chairs are displayed with historic photographs and copies of drawings that have been selected to show how important the hospital was and to put those two chairs in context.

Aalto was born in February 1898 so he was four years older than Arne Jacobsen. The exhibition does not compare directly the work of the two architects but there are marked and very important similarities. They grew up and then studied as architects in a period of massive social, political and economic changes in Europe and in a period that saw rapid advances in technology and industrial production that had a huge impact on architecture and furniture design. Political changes were more dramatic for Aalto because Finland only emerged as a nation, independent from both Sweden and Russia, in 1918 after a revolution.

 

Both architects, through the 1920s and through their first commissions, absorbed and readily adapted their designs to building in the relatively new material of concrete and the new techniques of construction that went with that material … so generally buildings with piers in concrete that supported concrete floors and, as a consequence, with freedom to experiment with external and internal walls that were no longer load bearing and with few restrictions in terms of height in buildings that could be constructed quickly.

Crucially, both architects worked on all aspects of a project … so not just the plan and structure of a building but all details of windows, door handles, light fittings and, for both men, designs for furniture.

They each achieved a uniform aesthetic in their buildings, and that was important, but it was also driven by the need for efficiency and an attempt to rationalise construction and manage costs - to produce as much as possible off site and to reduce the number of variations and options for the same reasons … so what became important was how they put together the parts and that was determined by function and not a hierarchy of fittings as in so many public and domestic buildings before the 20th century.

 

Here, in this exhibition, the two chairs show how Aalto was at the forefront of technical developments in furniture manufacture. His grandfather was a forester and taught at the Evo Forest Institute south of Tampere and Aalto himself developed a specific technique of cutting down into a length of squared-off timber, interlayering with thin slips of wood inserted into the cuts and with glue and steam bending and formed the timber for the frame for chairs and tables and other furniture.

He was one of the first designers to exploit and develop the use of plywood which again was bent - rather than used as flat sheets - to create a continuous surface for the seat and back of a chair but he also extended the bend or curve of the plywood to form a rounded support for the head and a rounded support for the back of the legs.

It is important to look carefully to see how the plywood shell of the seat and back and the bent-wood frame are joined together - with lugs or tabs in strategic positions on the edge of the plywood that fit into slots in the frame - and how crossbars link the frame on each side but also support the plywood at critical points.

 

Because of its topography and climate, Finland does not have the variety of native timbers for furniture making and house building that are found in Sweden and Denmark so the form of the chairs is not an odd whim of aesthetics but was necessary to be able to use native rather than imported timber - to do what was possible with native birch - a relatively small tree.

And the design of the chairs - and the distinct features of the building - reflect the nature of the disease treated at the hospital.

Tuberculosis was a contagious disease that effected the lungs but could also infect bones and the nervous system. By the early 20th century it was the cause of death of 7,200 people a year in Finland or about 13% of mortality year on year in the country.

When the hospital opened, treatment was based around providing patients with good nutrition and bed rest in the early stages of the disease and then with sun and fresh air although bright light and noise effected many sufferers badly.

The chairs are relatively low and long so the sitting position is close to reclining and the bent-wood frame and plywood provide a level of flexibility for long periods sitting in the sun or fresh air. The construction in wood was lighter than anything comparable that used tubular steel, so the chairs could be turned easily to be angled towards the sun and they were not upholstered to reduce contamination. Note that the Paimio Chair has narrow horizontal slits cut through the head rest so that air could circulate around the face.

The first private Sanatorium in Finland was opened in 1895 and the first owned by a federation of municipalities opened in 1914 but after passing a Tuberculosis Act in 1929 eight large sanatoriums were constructed with total of 2,500 beds and Paimio was the last to be completed in 1933 for 296 beds for patients from 52 municipalities including the city of Turku with an allocation of 100 beds. Because tuberculosis was contagious, the hospitals were generally set in countryside away from towns … the Sanatorium at Paimio was 20 kilometres east of Turku set in an area of woodland.

With the discovery of anti biotics, it became possible to alleviate and then control the spread of the disease and in 1960 the sanatorium buildings were modified and converted for use as a general hospital.

 

The exhibition at Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen continues until 21 January 2018

 

note:

comments on this post were received today (19 February 2018) and, because these were interesting and raised some important points, it was worth posting a longer reply that has been posted on Copenhagen architecture & design news as an update

Paimio Sanatorium 1929-33

 

Alvar Aalto Architect volume 5 Paimio Sanatorium 1929-1933, Alvar Aalto Foundation and Alvar Aalto Academy (2014)

 

 

One of twenty eight volumes published by the Alvar Aalto Foundation and the Alvar Aalto Academy to cover the work of the Finnish architect.

The format, with pages set landscape, allows generous space for an attractive layout but also gives an appropriate page size for the reproduction of design drawings for the Sanatorium and its fittings and furniture.

The book is a compilation of separate essays:

Paimio Sanatorium written by Teppo Jokinen, includes some of the preliminary drawings by Aalto that were entered for a competition for the building in 1929 and drawings for the expansion of the scheme, a decision made before construction started, when the city of Turku joined with the original municipalities. To expand the facilities, two extra floors and a roof terrace were added to the main block of rooms for the patients to treat up to 296 patients from 52 municipalities with up to 100 of those beds available for the city of Turku.

The arrangement of blocks on the site has a long but narrow main range with bedrooms and balconies on six floors angled to face south-east and south to benefit most from the sun and so rooms and balconies look out over the forest. A separate block containing administration spaces and a dining room, library and consulting rooms and surgeries was set behind but linked to the main block by an entrance hall with lifts and the main staircase. There was also a boiler house, ancillary buildings and housing for physicians and other staff that are reminiscent of the housing for teaching staff at the Bauhaus in Germany and the housing built for the exhibition in Stuttgart in 1927.

 

It was a complicated building with innovative features including windows with baffled ventilation to ensure fresh air without drafts; heating systems that were designed to ensure air circulation without uncomfortable areas of high heat; a complicated lighting system including shades and baffles - reminiscent of the work by Poul Henningsen in Denmark at the same time - and of course the famous washbasins in each room that were placed on the wall towards the corridor so they could be serviced from outside without disturbing the patients but were also designed to be splash and sound proofed because many suffering from tuberculosis became very sensitive to intrusive sounds. Aalto, and what seems to have been a relatively small office, achieved all this within a tight time frame as the building was ready to take its first patients by 1933.

The essay Paimio Interiors by Kaarina Mikonranta discusses the importance of light and colour in the programme of therapy and looks at everything Aalto designed inside from furniture and light fittings, to the door handles that were designed so that the coats of doctors would not snag as they pushed through the doors. Given that most patients occupied rooms with just two beds then there would have been rather a lot of opening and closing doors through an average day.

Some lighting came from an earlier project - so the pendant lights were shown at the Helsinki Minimum Apartment exhibition in 1930 - but 10 new models were produced Oy Taito Ab.

 

Paimio Sanatorium - repairs and modifications by Ola Laiho is a useful summary of the subsequent changes made to the building and its fittings. Many were undertaken by Aalto or by the partnership that continued after his death. A new operating theatre was added in 1958 and then, after the Sanatorium was converted to a general hospital in 1960, the distinctive balconies and sun deck were converted to interior spaces, with that work completed in 1963, and, perhaps the most obvious change, the glass walls of lifts were replaced with concrete.

Paimio Sanatorium Project Description quotes in full an important summary of the project by Alvar Aalto himself.

To complete the volume, there are photographs compiled by Maija Holma and three essays - Tuberculosis in Finland in early 20th century by Arno Forsius; Early days of the sanatorium (1860-1902) by Anne Marie Chatelet and The Sanatorium in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s by Jean-Bernard Cremnitzer - that are general but set out important context for planning for this type of special hospital that became common throughout Europe in the late 19th and early 20th century.

chair for the museum in Faaborg by Kaare Klint 1914

 
 

In many ways, for us now, this chair appears to be old fashioned - looking backward to earlier styles of furniture as a reinterpretation of an historic type of chair - but it can also be seen to mark or define the start of a distinctly modern approach to furniture design.

Faaborg is on the south coast of the island of Funen - just over 40 kilometres from Odense. A new museum there was founded in June 1910 to display the work of a group of artists known as the Funen painters and in 1912 it was the artists themselves who proposed Carl Petersen to design a new gallery that was to be built along one side of the summer home and garden of Mads Rasmussen … a wealthy businessman who had made his fortune through canned food.

Petersen was a leading figure in the architectural movement known as New Classicism. That might sound like yet another or simply the next revival of a historic style but in fact it was the architects of this group who instigated major changes as Danish architecture moved towards both Modernism and Functionalism. They included in their designs some of the features of classical architecture - so columns and cornices and mouldings inspired by classical buildings in Greece and Italy - but generally, and more important, they used an arrangement of identical rectangular windows across simple, regular and well proportioned facades that provided an appropriate sense of order to new buildings of greater and greater length that were designed to exploit new structural forms possible when using concrete and a beam and post construction that normally dictated equally spaced bays. It was architecture that was above all rational and essentially mathematical … essentially an intellectual exercise rather than to do with instinct or romanticism.

Kaare Klint joined Carl Petersen as an assistant in December 1913, as work on the new gallery started, and his first designs were for furniture for the archives - a room at the end of the sequence of galleries with wide doors onto the garden. Drawings are dated February 1914 with designs for a sofa, bookcases, a bureau and chairs.

The first working drawings for this chair for the main gallery are dated June 1914 and then a small model and a full-sized prototype were made.

The starting point for the design was a Danish form of chair known as a Klismos that had first appeared in the late 18th century and was derived from chairs that had been depicted on classical vases and sculpture. The distinctive features were legs that had a marked curve between the seat and the floor - almost as if the legs are splaying or sliding out at the ground under the weight of the person - and with the back legs continuing up above the seat as posts to support a very sharply curved back rest.

 

Klint designed a chair that was a distinct improvement on earlier designs and was certainly much lighter both in weight and appearance than many versions. In part this was because the chair was actually designed deliberately to be light so that it could be moved around the gallery by any visitor so they could sit down directly in front of a painting to study the work.

photographs taken at Designmuseum Danmark in the major exhibition from June 2014 through to October 2015 on the work of Kaare Klint

 

 

Kaare Klint (1888-1954)

made by N M Rasmussen, Rud. Rasmussen and N C Jensen Kjær

oak, cane, leather

 

height: 72cm

width: 56cm

depth: 57cm

height of seat: 43cm

 

The Faaborg chair is still in production and is now made by Carl Hansen & Son

 
 

Klint himself acknowledged that Petersen had suggested changes to the design of the chair and implied that the most serious discussions were about the way that the top of the back rest should or should not curve outwards.

Key dimensions of the chair fit within the system of the classical mathematical proportion known as a Golden Section or, by extension, Golden Rectangles so the overall radius of the arc of the back and the height from the ground to top of the seat rail are the same dimension and are directly related to the overall width of the front of the seat as a Golden proportion. Such a precise mathematical framework must surely have come from teaching by Petersen - by then a leading architect of the New Classical architecture movement in Denmark.

A model for the new chair was made but does not survive - lost in a fire - but there is a photograph of the model and it shows an earlier stage in the development of the design. In that model, Klint proposed that the back posts should be continued up above the line of the back rest with a higher parallel but shorter rail with a panel or plaque in the void between the two horizontal rails and that matched a tripartite subdivision of the front rail of the seat that, in an early version, broke forward for the centre third but in the final version was removed and replaced with a simple flat and flush line for the front rail of the chairs that were made for the museum.

There was another and more significant change. A full-sized prototype has front legs that curve outwards below the seat … not forward as was found with a Klismos type … but out to the sides and the back legs were vertical. In the final version the front legs are vertical and the back posts are splayed or curved out below the seat but because the posts are set at 45 degrees, on the arc of the back rest, the curve or splays run out at an angle. It is this detail of the construction that gives the chair a lighter and more elegant and stylish form where four straight and vertical legs could well have looked severe and actually too narrow and therefore, visually at least, potentially unstable.

The seat of the chair and the back rest and sides had split cane, in part to keep the chair as light as possible and, in part, to keep the chair visually as light and open as possible so that it did not form a too solid and dominant feature of the gallery. It has also been said that the back rail was kept simple and horizontal, rather than with a slope down the arm rest, so that again it did not draw the eye and distract from the paintings. For the same reason the wood of the frame was given a soft natural finish rather than the heavy varnished or dark polished finish more usual at that period.

 

Kaare Klint and Poul Henningsen were related by marriage and Klint gave Henningsen the important commission to design lighting for the Design Museum but that did not prevent a certain amount of banter from Henningsen.

There is a well-known photograph from 1927 in Kritisk Revy, the journal Henningsen published, where he is balancing a chair from Thonet on an outstretched hand.

In 1962 Henningsen explained that it was a comment on Klint and the Faaborg chair:  

"By making this chair five times as expensive, three times as heavy, half as comfortable, and a quarter as beautiful, an architect can very well win himself a name." He went on to say that he could not sit in the Faaborg chair "without becoming melancholy about the past. What pointed to the future in that chair was probably first and foremost thoroughly conceived and executed craftsmanship." 

In English that is said to be damning with faint praise but actually the point about thorough conception and execution is a key to not only the subsequent work by Klint himself but is an important way to understand and appreciate the quality of modern Danish furniture both in design and in production.

Chair 7 by Arne Jacobsen 1955

Skalstole / Shell chairs

 

Designed by Arne Jacobsen in 1955, this is perhaps the classic shell chair and is still in production. 

It is made in remarkably thin laminated wood with either a wood veneer or the shell is painted. There are also upholstered versions.

Thin metal legs are bent and meet at a central circle of wood applied to the underside of the shell and with a cover, originally metal and later plastic. There are spacers before the elbow of the leg to hold the legs in position and dampers that ensure that the seat is neither too rigid, making the chair uncomfortable, nor too flexible making the sitting position seem unstable.

The chairs are light and they stack which makes this a popular option for institutional use, such as meeting spaces or temporary lecture rooms but, of course that can be useful in an ordinary home if space is tight or if extra seating is only needed occasionally.

Model 3107 was also produced with arms (model 3207) and with a swivel base for an office chair and the shell can be fixed directly to a step or beam in an arrangement for theatres or auditoriums.

 
 

height: 79cm

width: 45cm

depth: 40cm

height of seat: 44cm

shell laminated wood

legs tube steel with chrome finish

produced by Fritz Hansen Eftf

 

 

read more in an earlier post - design classic: Series 7 Chair

 

Aalto at Designmuseum Danmark

 

 

An exhibition has just opened at Designmuseum Danmark about the building and furniture for the Paimio Sanatorium designed by Alvar Aalto and completed in 1933. The exhibition, in the area to the left of the entrance, includes two of the original chairs from the sanatorium that are in the permanent collection of the museum along with photograph of the building work, information and photographs of drawings and the finished building and its interior. 

The sanatorium was designed for the treatment of tuberculosis so the Functionalist building had features such as cupboards fixed up off the floor to make cleaning easier and there were wide and open balconies and a sun deck on the top floor where patients could sit out in the fresh air. The chairs were made with frames in steam-bent beech and with birch plywood … in part because these were timbers native to Finland and in part they provided comfort but also avoided potential problems with the hygiene of upholstery.

the exhibition continues until 21 January 2017

KADK Afgang Sommer’17

 

This weekend is the last opportunity to see the exhibition of the projects and work of this year's graduates from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts Schools of Architecture, Design and Conservation … a densely packed show of the talents and the phenomenal imaginations and skills of the students who have just completed their courses in Copenhagen.

There are profiles of the students and photographs and descriptions of their work on the KADK site.

The exhibition ends on 13th August. 

KADK, Danneskiold-Samsøe Alle, Copenhagen

Art of Many and the Right to Space

 

 

This is the exhibition that was the Danish contribution to the Venice Biennale of Architecture last year. The main section is an extensive display of architectural models from major architects and design partnerships in the country and the aim is to illustrate the importance of high-quality architecture in Denmark and, in a broader sense, the contribution of architecture to the community as a whole.

There is an important audio visual show by Jan Gehl about the work of their planning office in Copenhagen.

at the Danish Architecture Centre in Copenhagen until 1 October 2017

 

Moving Materials at the Danish Architecture Centre

 

 

An exhibition that explores the work of the Japanese architect Hiroshi Sambuichi

... an architecture that attempts to be in balance with nature and with the landscape in which the buildings are set. It requires extensive study, sometimes over a number of years, of the passage of the sun and an awareness of how natural light across the site changes through the day but there is also a deep empathy for the climate of a specific location so the effect of wind, rain and mist across the land at different points of time or season. It is those elements of climate that are the Moving Materials.

longer review

 

continues at the Danish Architecture Centre in Copenhagen until 25 June

 

WORKS + WORDS

At KADK on Danneskiod-Sasøes Allé in Copenhagen … an exhibition to show a wide variety of recent experiments and research projects in architecture from architects and teachers from the Royal Academy itself and from the School of Architecture in Aarhus and the School of Architecture and Design in Oslo. 

This is about research into how we can design better buildings now and in the future: “the artistic experiment is … an important cornerstone of KADK's architectural and design education and is a central part of KADK's community commitment as an educational institution. “

This is the first in what will be a biennial event and continues at KADK until 5 May 2017

just to quote ....

 

This is an important and an angry statement by Arne Jacobsen and it suggests that by the 1930s he had become frustrated with the growing popularity for what he appears to see as a diluted and superficial approach to functionalism in architecture and the design of interiors . He is concerned, that Funkis is more concerned with style and fashion than rational architecture and did not reflect his own interest in the radical exploitation of new materials and new methods of construction.

Arne Jacobsen Approach to his Complete Works

 

A useful catalogue in two volumes of the buildings by Arne Jacobsen set out in their chronological sequence. Each volume has a short introduction and then an entry for each building that puts together, in one place, site plans, where appropriate, and a selection of historic drawings, modern floor plans and sections along with a short description/assessment. Designs that were not, in the end, built are also included.

A selection of drawings are collected together here in the third volume but drawing-office technical drawings are not included. They show how confident and competent Jacobsen was as a draughtsman and include cartoons - with strong heavy and bold line work - sketches - or perhaps more the resolution of ideas for architectural details - sketches from travels abroad and subtle and delicate colour-wash drawings of scenery, historic buildings and plants.

by Félix Solaguren-Beascoa and published in three volumes by The Danish Architectural Press in 2002 (but currently available in paperback) 

  1. Arne Jacobsen Approach to his Complete Works 1926-1949
  2. Arne Jacobsen Approach to his Complete Works 1950-1971
  3. Arne Jacobsen Drawings 1958-1965

 

concrete and steel in the 1930s

 

The Deutscher Werkbund - the German Association of Craftsmen - held an exhibition in Stuttgart in 1927 that included houses and apartment buildings - the Weissenhof Estate - designed by German architects but also by architects from Belgium, France and the Netherlands. New construction techniques for domestic buildings were shown … here an open steel frame infilled with concrete blocks for an apartment building designed by Mies van der Rohe

Until the 20th century, the main materials for building construction in Europe were natural … so stone as a strong but usually expensive walling; timber for wall framing, roofs and architectural fittings including windows and doors. Natural materials were not of course always used in their found state but were modified or transformed by builders so sand for glass; plaster for covering internal and external surfaces; clay fired for bricks and roof tiles and, of course, lime for mortar and for cement. Perhaps the biggest change to the structural form and then, as a direct consequence, to the appearance of buildings in modern Denmark came with the more and more frequent use of concrete and steel … not just for industrial buildings but for housing and apartment buildings and for new large building types and particularly where high or wide and open enclosed spaces were wanted that were unencumbered by walls or internal supports.

read more

... of balconies and bays in the 1930s

 
  1. H C Ørsteds Vej by Thorkild Henningsen 1931
  2. Store Mølle Vej by Frode Galatius 1938
  3. Storgården housing scheme by Povl Baumann & Knud Hansen 1935
  4. Ved Volden, Christianshavn by Tyge Hvass and Henning Jørgensen 1938
  5. Sortedams Dossering by Ib Lunding completed in 1938
 

Extensive use of concrete and steel for the construction of buildings in the 20th century - from the late 1920s onwards - meant that the outside walls - the facades of a building - became less crucial for supporting the weight of walls and the upper structure - particularly the weight of the roof - and walls could be broken through and pierced with larger and wider openings until the outside wall can, in some buildings, disappear completely with all the weight of the building taken on piers in steel or concrete that were set within the building or with the structure depending on strong internal cross walls.

Particularly for apartment buildings this meant that wider and wider windows could be constructed, sometimes in metal, often made in a factory - even when they are in wood - and then brought to the site, so standardised and by using reinforced concrete, balconies could be cantilevered out from the facades and became larger and, in many buildings, much larger so that they become a dominant feature.

read more