To design the Paimio Sanatorium, Alvar and Aino Aalto leveraged the best science available at the time, which called for cross-ventilation and heliotherapy (exposure to sunshine) to treat and prevent tuberculosis. They considered everything from chairs and sinks to closets and beds. Sinks with angled basins were designed to minimize the sound of splashing water. Nonporous flooring and curved surfaces were easy to clean. Verandas were designed for resting outdoors.

The design of the Paimio Sanatorium was functional yet affirmed the presence of individuals. The embrace of light, air, cleanliness, and access to the outdoors in sanatoriums inspired sweeping changes in the design of homes and cities.

Content from the exhibition Design and Healing: Creative Responses to Epidemics, curated by MASS Design Group and Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

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Paimio Sanatorium, Paimio, Finland, 1929–33
Alvar Aalto (Finnish, 1898–1976) and Aino Aalto (Finnish, 1894–1949)

Paimio Sanatorium, Paimio, Finland, 1929–33; Photograph: Building A to the south and the water pool, Gustaf Welin, Alvar Aalto Foundation

Photograph: Solarium Terrace, 1934, Gustaf Welin, Alvar Aalto Foundation

Site Plan, Paimio Sanatorium, 1932; Drawing: Alvar Aalto (Finnish, 1898–1976), Alvar Aalto Foundation

Photograph: Patients’ Room, 1933, Gustaf Welin, Alvar Aalto Foundation

Noiseless Wash Basin, 1932; Drawing: Alvar Aalto (Finnish, 1898–1976), Alvar Aalto Foundation

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Paimio Lounge Chair (model 41), 1931–32
The Paimio Chair aimed to straighten the patient’s back to help them breathe and cough. The chair was made from curved plywood rather than from the tubular steel favored by many modern designers in the 1920s and 1930s. This iconic chair has furnished countless homes, offices, and lobbies. Alvar Aalto (Finnish, 1898–1976); Bent plywood, bent laminated birch, and solid birch; Manufacturer: Oy Huonekalu-ja Rakennustyötehdas Ab, Turku, Finland; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Edgar Kaufmann, Jr. Fund, 1943

Alvar Aalto (Finnish, 1898–1976); Bent plywood, bent laminated birch, and solid birch; Manufacturer: Oy Huonekalu-ja Rakennustyötehdas Ab, Turku, Finland; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Edgar Kaufmann, Jr. Fund, 1943

Paimio Chair and Aino Aalto, ca. 1932; Photograph: Alvar Aalto Foundation

Featured Image: Paimio Chair and Aino Aalto, ca. 1932; Photograph: Alvar Aalto Foundation

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