Paimio Sanatorium

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Photo: Gustaf Welin / AAM
  • PlacePaimio
  • Completion 1933
  • Decade1930s
  • PeriodConstructing the identity of a newly independent nation
  • Year of selection1993


Tuberculosis was the most significant public health problem in Finland in the early 1900s. The treatment, modelled on the one provided in the sanatoriums of Central Europe – relying on nutrition, rest and hygiene – aimed to improve the patients’ general condition and immunity. Eight central sanatoriums for the municipal tuberculosis districts in Finland were built at the beginning of the 1930s, the last of which to be completed was Paimio Sanatorium. The building is a key work in both Aalto’s growing international reputation and Functionalism in Finland, the architectural significance of which was recognized already early on.

An open architecture competition was held for the design of sanatorium, with the deadline for submissions in January 1929. “Drawings that in some respects differed from the rest” (Turunmaa, 17/06/1933) brought Aalto victory. The main idea behind the proposal was the functionalist grouping of spaces in different wings of the building in accordance with their functions and lighting requirements. Also the landscape architecture of the complex was subtly structured.

After the competition stage, the plans changed considerably, though the basic design solution remained the same. The City of Turku joined the project during the working-drawings stage, and thus 100 more patient places were required. This meant that the patient wing became two storeys higher than the original – which increased the building’s architectural impact. The concrete structure culminated in the patients’ open sun terraces that rested on a single row of columns, which at the time was an incredible technical feat.

In addition to the main building, also separate staff residential buildings, as well as technical buildings, a mortuary, and greenhouses were built amidst the pine-forested heathland.  The Aalto designed residential buildings (1933 and 1962) situated in the grounds are interesting examples of low-rise housing and terraced housing.

In the design of the tuberculosis sanatorium, hygiene and daylight were emphasised, as evident in the placement of the different functions and the selection of materials. The chosen surface materials were easy to clean: ceramic tiles, rubber and linoleum flooring, gloss paint, and contemporary materials such as Stalfit, a water-insulating Finnish product that was a “seamless, glossy and hard coating method”. (Varsinais-Suomen Tuberkuloosiparantola, 74)

Paimio Sanatorium also became an experimental project for wood and plywood furniture, where Aalto, together with the carpenter Otto Korhonen, developed new kinds of manufacturing methods. Thus materialised a number of furniture designs, which became key products sold by the company Artek, founded in 1935.

The sanatorium was a total work of art, designed down to the smallest detail. The original colour scheme was diverse, with artist Eino Kauria involved in the work. The yellow flooring of the main stairs was complemented by, for instance, blue and red lifts. The principle behind the colour scheme of the patient’s rooms came from the observation of a patient lying in bed, in Aalto’s own words “a horizontal human” (Schildt, 1997, 102-7).

The modern sanatorium was enthusiastically received. Former patient recollections emphasised the brightness and festiveness – though on the other hand also the echoing and starkness. The architect community praised the building, and it was widely published soon after its completion, also internationally.

The treatment of tuberculosis changed in the late 1950s with the development of pharmacological treatments. At the same time there were developments in anaesthesia and there was an emphasis on surgical treatments. In 1958 a new operating theatre wing was built in Paimio Sanatorium, when the original facilities inevitably became far too small and old-fashioned. Meanwhile, the sun-balcony treatments were abandoned and in 1964 the patient sun terraces were filled-in with glazing, and thus the wards received new treatment rooms and other ancillary spaces.

Subsequently Paimio, like other large sanatoriums, was converted into a hospital that focused on other diseases. The patient rooms and virtually all the other rooms in the main building were refurbished to meet the requirements of the 1970s and 1980s. The building’s use as a hospital nevertheless came to an end in 2015, and new kinds of rehabilitation activities were placed there.


Jonas Malmberg

Aalto, Alvar (1933). ”Paimion parantola”, Arkkitehti 6/1933.
Aalto, Alvar (1934). ”Paimion parantolan asuinrakennuksia”, Arkkitehti 4/1934.
Aalto, Alvar; Kalkas, Ilmo & Savonen, Severi (1933). Varsinais-Suomen Tuberkuloosiparantola. Paimio: Varsinais-Suomen tuberkuloosiparantolan rakennuslautakunta.
Schildt, Göran (1997). Näin puhui Alvar Aalto / Alvar Aalto in His Own Words. Helsinki: Otava.
Törrönen, Sirkka (1983). Varsinais-Suomen tuberkuloosipiiri. Turku: Varsinais-Suomen tuberkuloosipiirin kuntainliitto.


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