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.

PK12 by Poul Kjærholm 1962

Kinesiske stole og dampbøjede stole / Chinese chairs and steambent chairs

designed in Poul Kjærholm in 1962
produced by E Kold Christensen from 1964

height: 68 cm
width: 63 cm
depth: 52 cm
height of seat: 44 cm

More than his contemporaries, the designer Poul Kjærholm worked with metal, rather than wood, and generally with flat strips of solid steel that were either kept straight to form frames for chairs or table or bent to shape as the support or for the runners of chairs but with the PK12 made by Kold Chistensen they used steel tubing bent to form the legs and back of the chair in a style that echoes deliberately the form and character of bentwood chairs. 

As with a bentwood chair the seat is formed with an enclosing hoop that sits within the legs although here the frame of the seat itself is a steel band. With bentwood the legs sit hard against the outside of the hoop of the seat and are fixed directly to the seat, often by bolts that run through the leg and into or through the frame, but here, for the PK12, there are short neat spacing pieces that are welded between the leg and the seat frame.

The seat itself - in most versions covered with leather - is not round and not an ellipse but is narrower at the back than at the front so it forms what is, in effect, a rounded triangle and the spacing of the back legs, respecting this shape, are much tighter or closer together than the front legs creating a distinctive form when seen straight on and a more dynamic form when the chair is seen from other angles.

The back of the chair has two curves of tube that are horizontal and parallel but not connected … the lower element curved round and then bent down to form the two back legs and an upper tube bent to form the back rest and the arm rests as a single curve and then bent down at the outer ends to run straight down for the front legs of the chair.

In some versions of the PK12 the upper tube of the back is bound round with leather tape.

Normally chairs with vertical legs appear rather narrow or pinched and actually slightly unstable - they can be tipped backwards quite easily if the back legs are not angled or curved outwards - but here the generous width of the chair; its solid weight and the presumed strength of the steel tube together create a strong sense of stability.

The chair photographed here is in the collection of Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen and was a prototype from 1962 but books generally give the production date for the chair as 1964.



Chair by Marcel Breuer who was head of the furniture workshop at the Bauhaus. Tube steel frame with seat and back in wood with cane designed in 1928



The best-known furniture in steel tube from the early modern period came from the Bauhaus in Germany and furniture in metal tube, often with a chrome finish, was popular in The Netherlands and France but the style does not seem to have been widely copied in Denmark.

Although there was no major steel production in Denmark, shipbuilding was important with highly-skilled engineering work for making engines so there was certainly the machinery and the technical knowledge to work with steel tube for furniture ... so this must simply reflect a general preference for the work of cabinetmakers in wood rather than for the more industrial look of some furniture in northern Europe in the Art Deco period.

Several Danish designers did use narrow steel tube or bent steel rod for the legs of chairs and tables and there are examples of the use of bent steel tube … Mogen Lassen designed a bold chair with a tubular frame supporting a wicker seat in 1933; in 1967 Henning Larsen produced the FH9230, a striking version of a bentwood armchair in steel, and also for Fritz Hansen in the same year Grete Jalk designed an unusual upholstered chair on a bent tube frame, the FH9000. Hans Wegner used bent steel tube for the legs and the supports of the back of his office chair, the JH502 from 1955, and for the later version the JH522 from 1965 and he also used metal tube for the the Queen Chair and the Ox Chair in 1960 for Erik Jorgensen where the steel forms a base and legs for an upholstered chair rather than the whole framework. The Flag Halyard Chair by Wegner from 1950 has frame, seat and legs in shaped metal tube but in this unique design the seat and back are woven rope and the legs and the supporting frame are expressed as a separate part - by being painted - so the chair is not strictly of the bentwood / bent tube group.

PK25 by Poul Kjærholm 1951


Lave hvilestole / Easy chairs

Poul Kjærholm designed some of the most beautiful and most striking chairs of the modern period of Danish design.

At the age of 15 he was apprenticed to a cabinet maker in his home town of Hjørring in Jutland but moved to Copenhagen in 1948 where he continued his training at the Kunsthåndværkerskolen - the School of Arts and Crafts - that was then based at Kunstindustrimuseet - now Designmuseum Danmark. 

It was Hans Wegner who introduced him to the industrial design of Germany and introduced him to to Ejvind Kold Christensen, who was then establishing a company that would go on to manufacture pieces by both Wegner and then Kjærholm. 

The younger designer moved across almost completely to using industrial materials rather than wood for the frames of his chairs although he used natural materials for upholstery, particularly leather, with amazing and almost stark effects that emphasised the clean and precise lines of the furniture. His designs moved rapidly away from the styles and forms of the work of traditional cabinetmaker and close to the precision and the techniques of engineering.

The PK25 was made from a single sheet of steel that was cut and then shaped in a hydraulic press, and given a matt chrome finish and with a single length of halyard or sailing rope wrapped around the metal frame to form the seat and back.

photographed at Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen


 designed by Poul Kjærholm (1929-1980)
designed in 1951 (as a graduate project)

manufactured by Fritz Hansen Eftf 1952-1956
manufactured by E Kold Christensen from 1956
manufactured by Fritz Hansen Eftf from 1982

materials: steel and halyard

height: 75 cm
depth: 73 cm
width: 69 cm
seat height: 40 cm

Designmuseum Danmark catalogue


is it all in the concept …..



For any design - a design for a building, a chair or a teapot - the starting point has to be the idea, the concept. It is that first attempt to imagine the what and then think about the how. 

If you are cynical or pedantic or just being realistic - in this tough world - you could argue that a commercial design actually starts with the commission and the contract but for me what is fascinating about looking at a great design is to try and understand that initial concept and to see how it was realised.

My apartment is about 200 metres from Cirkelbroen - The Circle Bridge - that was designed by Olafur Eliasson and completed in 2015. So whenever I walk into the city I either see the bridge at the end of the canal or I actually cross over the bridge to get to Islands Brygge or get to the west part of the city centre. 

When it first opened I thought it was stunning … and to be honest also rather useful as it made it possible for the first time to walk from Christianshavn on south along the harbour … but mainly I thought that it was stunning. 

Unique as well. Elegant and curiously delicate, almost ephemeral, when seen in sunlight but particularly if it is misty or the light is failing at the end of the day - but at night stronger and much more dramatic.

read more

Circular Economy


A major exhibition at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts Schools of Architecture, Design and Conservation to show fourteen projects that offer new solutions and strategies for the development of new sustainable materials along with the development of new technologies, the exploration of new approaches to building and construction and the recycling or re-circulation of materials.

“The conversion means that we need to work innovatively and experimentally on the development of new materials and the recycling of old ones, while also using our knowledge to create solutions that people actually want to use. That is the way we work at KADK, so our research and the skills of our graduates can play a major role in terms of giving people a better life without putting pressure on our planet.” 

Lene Dammand Lund.


Through the Autumn there will be a series of open seminars to “draw on knowledge and experience from some of the world’s leading architects and designers in the field of circularity, who will be invited to talk about their work.”


the exhibition Circular Economy continues at KADK at Philip de Langes Allé 10 in Copenhagen until 3 December 2017