Monday, September 15, 2014

The Paimio Sanatorium

Site No. 54: Tuberculosis Sanatorium in Paimio (1928-33)

Today I would like to present a building that is very well known among Aalto fans. It belongs to Aalto's early works and is certainly the building that helped Alvar Aalto to gain international recognition. It has taken long time but finally this summer I was able to travel to Paimio and to see this masterpiece of architecture. The Paimio Tuberculosis Sanatorium was designed in the late 1920s and completed in 1933.

The building served until the 1960s as a sanatorium for treating tuberculosis patients. During the 60s and 70s it was gradually converted into a normal hospital due to the fact that there were less and less cases of tuberculosis in Finland. Up until 2010 it worked as a lung disease hospital. Currently it is operated as a sanatorium, again, now serving children but only during the week days. The building was nominated to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

As in the early years tuberculosis was treated by putting patients into an environment of clean air and plenty of sunshine where they should get as much rest as possible, this building follows exactly this philosophy.

Aalto saw the building itself as an instrument for healing. These can be clearly seen in the design of the building as I will show later. The building itself is located about 4 kilometers from the city centre of Paimio in the middle of a forest. The address is Alvar Aallon Tie 275.

The sanatorium can easily be reached by car or by public transportation. I took the train from Jyväskylä to the closest train station to Paimio which is Turku.
ExpressBus to Salo
From Turku there are two different bus lines running to Paimio.

You can either take the slidely faster ExpressBus going to Salo which leaves from Turku Busstation or you take the local bus 700 which runs from Turku Marketsquare to Paimio and occationally even all the way to the hospital. Otherwise if your bus only runs to Paimio centre you have to walk about 4 km.

The hospital can however easy be found
Local Bus 700
just follow the street that carries the architects name: Alvar Aallon Tie. There is a nice side walk next to the street. If you are not up to walking you can also take a taxi from downtown Paimio. 

One word about visiting the building, as this is a functioning hospital visits are only possible when attending a guided tour. Only the small entrance hall is public space.

To get most out of your visit I highly recommend to participate in the guided tour which is organized regularly. The guide takes you through the building showing you the staircases, a original patient room, the library and of course the famous roof terrace. The tour takes about 1 hour. For more information and to arrange your visit please check:   

But now back to the building and its architecture. Let's first start with a walk around the building before we have a closer look inside. Here are first a few pictures from the front and entrance area.

Next we will have a look at the patients wing.

Followed by the rear section. Interesting is also that the trees were kept as close as possible to the building as being part of the healing process.

An interesting detail is also this chimney with an attached water tank which was originally designed to produce hot water for the building with the help of the hot exaust steam. Is is however not know whether this chimney actually ever really heated rooms as such.

Before moving inside the building here are still a few details of the entrance area. Outstanding is definitely the roof at the main entrance which much have been quite futuristic by the time the building was completed.

And now as promised views from the inside. We will start our tour at the entrance hall. This information box seen in the picture was added during the 1950s by request of the hospital's owner. Before that there was only an information desk. Interesting is that the shape was adapted from the Aalto Savoy Vase.

Here are some details of the entrance hall. Worth mentioning is the curved form off the corners as seen in the right hand picture. The idea behind this was to make cleaning easier which again was important in this building because of hygenic reasons.

A very important aspect of the build are the staircases as seen below. Not only are the steps flatter in order to make them climb easier but the floors and steps are also kept in very bright colors which should cheer up the patients while moving around the building. Indeed when we think how modern this colors must have appeared in the 1930s, I would say definitely say ground breaking.

Next we look into the interiour designed to heal the patient from the illness. First we have an overview of tools used in direct treatment on display in the room next to the library.

Nevertheless, also Aalto's design was part of the treatment. A very famous example are these chairs shown in the next picture which are designed to make breathing easier for the patient.

Another interesting detail are the door handles, designed to avoid injuries.

Next, we will have a look at the library which is filled with furniture designed by Alvar Aalto (with exception of the sofas) the books however, have been removed.

From the library the dinning hall can be seen. Unfortunately visitors are not allowed to enter the hall.

The highlight of the tour is of course the famous roof terasse which gives a great view over the entire building and its surrounding.

This was the place where the tubercolosis patients spend several hours per day in order to get most of the clean air and of course sunshine.

Another interesting feature of Aalto's design is the use of colors not only to cheer up the sick but also to help them not getting lost in this for that time large building. Therefore every staircase and every floor has its own color scheme. The patient did not had to remember which floor number he or she was in but just had to remember the right color. Another interesting detail about the blue color originally used in this building is that this blue was chosen by Alvar Aalto for this building and received later the name "Paimio Blue". Unfortunately the blue seen on this picture is not anymore the original one.

Finally the guided tour ends in the first floor where one of the patient rooms was kept in its original outfitting as designed by Alvar Aalto. Only the curtins are not original even so the ones seen on the picture are designed by Alvar Aalto.

All interiour was designed by Alvar Aalto together with his first wife. Interesting is that each patient had his or her own sink in order to avoid that the patients infected each other by using the same sink. Special about this sinks is also that when the water comes out of the tap it falls quite soft into the bowl reducing noise due to its special design. The same sink can also be found in Aalto's private house in Helsinki I reported about in an earlier post.

Interesting are also the closets designed by Alvar Aalto attached to the wall. Even though very practical they weren't very popular among the patients as they reminded them often of coffins due to their special shape.

Also in the visitor section a picture taken from the air and a model of the sanatorium can be found giving a good overview over the entire building as such.

Besides the main building Aalto also designed buildings in the near surroundings of the hospital which were reserved for the hospital staff.

The building seen below was added later and does not belong to Aalto's original design. Nevertheless, this building was, as also all the changes made to the sanatorium, designed by Aalto's architecture office. Aalto's office was responsible for all alternations at Paimio until it cheased operations in the 1990s.

To conclude, I would say Paimio is definitely a must to visit for every Aalto fan. Certainly it is not as easy accessible as those Aalto buildings in Helsinki, Seinäjoki or Jyväskylä and you should participate in the guided tour in order to really get most out of your visit. Nevertheless, this building somehow represents the beginning of Aalto's career and is a huge milestone on his way toward a long and successful career as an internationally recognized architect.


  1. It’s nice that you finally came to see Paimio Sanatorium. I’ve been reading your blog for some time, I also like to see Aaltos buildings when I travel and I like your pictures and information you give about the buildings. But concerning Sanatorium I have to correct some of your mistakes.
    Building was completed 1933. It served as a sanatorium, not a hospital and it was gradually changed to hospital during 60s-70s since there was less and less tuberculosis in Finland, thanks to new medicines. Then it worked as a lung disease hospital up until 2010. It hasn’t been used as a hospital since. It is now working as a sanatorium again, but for children, and only during week days. That is the reason there is no regular guided tours you mention, only tours by appointment. tells the situation.

    Tower you mention is actually a chimney and it worked just fine. It heated the water and hot water went to heating panels. It’s another question if the heating panels really heated rooms or not, but chimney worked.
    In the entrance hall you call the information desk a box. Well, I guess it looks a bit like a box. Desk however has always been there, it just was different looking first. This form is from the 50s.
    Sick patients who had trouble breathing running around hitting themselves in to walls? Interesting idea. Real reason for the round corners is cleaning. Round corners are easier to keep clean, especially before vacuum cleaner, and hygiene was important part of the building as you mention later.

    Library has many furniture designed by Alvar Aalto, but the sofas in your pictures are not one of them. Sofas came with the children this year and have nothing to do with the original building.
    Tuberculosis patients spent few hours in the roof terrace every day, but not all day every day.
    “Paimio blue” is seen on your picture of the staircase, but the blue on your picture left is different blue.
    Original patient room was not “put back” as you say, but left alone. It has original furniture and wall/ceiling colors that never left the room. Curtains are not original.

    Aalto did design buildings in the near surroundings of the Sanatorium for staff but not the one in your last picture. That one is from the 1960s, designed by architect from Aaltos architect office – as all the changes made in the building and surroundings have been made by Aaltos architects up until to 1990s.

    Greetings from your reader and co-Aalto fan

  2. Dear co-Aalto fan :-) Thank you so much for your interest in my blog and for beeing such an active and interested reader. I apreciated all your comments and I am truly thankful for those corrections you made. Obviously you were more carefully listening to what the guide told us (?) during that particular tour. I agree with you in all points and have made corrections to the information that I had displayed wrong. I also apologize for giving out wrong information. In case we met at that particular tour, once again thank you for your company and for visiting me in Jyväskylä on the next week. I will soon post also pictures from that specific "guided tour" through Aalto's work we had in Jyväskylä.