Paimio Sanatorium was Alvar Aalto’s international breakthrough and a functionalist “total work of art”. Now the building is on the verge of a new era, under the Paimio Sanatorium Foundation. The Franckly Visits column takes you on a tour to inspiring architecture and design destinations – nice to have you with us!
THE PAIMIO SANATORIUM was completed in 1933, and originally it was a place where tuberculosis patients came to live and recover for months, even for years. When no medical treatment was available for the disease, patients were treated by offering them a pleasant environment that supported their recovery. The patients spent their days sunbathing on balconies, making handicrafts and resting.
Even today, the sanatorium designed by Alvar and Aino Aalto seems to have an air of healing positivity.
“Aalto designed Paimio Sanatorium to be a gentle and humane place. That’s what makes Paimio Sanatorium so special,” says Henna Helander, architect and CEO of the Paimio Sanatorium Foundation.
Paimio Sanatorium was used for treating tuberculosis patients until the 1960s, after which it was converted into a hospital. Surprisingly, in 2018, the Hospital District of Southwest Finland announced that it would put the property up for sale. Architecture enthusiasts became worried about what would happen to the internationally renowned functionalist masterpiece.
The fate of the building was at stake for some time, until in October 2020, the new Paimio Sanatorium Foundation took over the sanatorium and the surrounding land areas. The foundation was founded by the State of Finland, the Municipality of Paimio, the City of Turku, the Alvar Aalto Foundation and the Hospital District of Southwest Finland.
The Paimio Sanatorium will no longer be used as a hospital. Instead, something totally different is being planned for the premises.
The foundation is to bring the place to a new era under the leadership of Henna Helander. The building will no longer be used as a hospital. Instead, something totally different is being planned for the premises. The challenge is great, since the surface area is as large as 15,000 square meters, and the annual maintenance costs alone run into millions.
The foundation is now in charge of the culturally and historically valuable building and has already started making changes to it. Since the summer of 2021, the sanatorium has been open to visitors.
Guided tours have been organized in the building, and the new exhibition gives visitors the opportunity to learn about Aino and Alvar Aalto’s designs, the original patient rooms and the daily lives of the tuberculosis patients. A café was also opened in the old patient wing.
The Paimio Sanatorium foundation wants to breathe life into the entire building.
However, according to Helander, these are only the first steps. In the future, the foundation wants to breathe life into the entire building. The aim is to turn the sanatorium into a place that brings together operators from various fields, dealing with issues important for the future, such as the climate crisis, circular economy and people’s wellbeing.
“Paimio Sanatorium has always been a place for healing people and improving the world in many respects. Alvar Aalto designed the building to be a place that helps treat tuberculosis. Now we will turn it into a place that helps solve social problems,” explains Helander.
In Henna Helander’s visions, the building is filled with showrooms, scientists, design and circular-economy companies, coworking spaces, scientific and cultural events, shops, residencies, design and art exhibitions as well as offices. Thus, it would be like the Cable Factory cultural center in Helsinki or the Telliskivi area in Tallinn, with some operators from the scientific community.
Helander also believes that the architectural masterpiece will attract both Finnish and international design tourists. For them, the foundation is looking for a hotel entrepreneur to take over the top two floors.
“We’re currently negotiating with numerous companies and institutions. People have clearly become interested in Paimio Sanatorium, but there are still many decisions to make,” describes Helander.
Some operators are already ready for business. Airbnb-style accommodation will be available in the former nurses’ residences, and the apartments will be partly decorated with partners from the design industry. Accommodation is expected to be available at the end of the year, and more apartments will be completed in spring 2022. A high-quality restaurant will also be opened on the premises.
Helander promises that by the summer of 2022, the range of exhibitions will be even wider and more diverse. Future exhibitions include pieces that Alvar Aalto designed for the sanatorium, which will come from the extensive Aalto collection of collector Pertti Männistö, as well as new contemporary design.
“It’s important to have the confidence to make changes, since our intention is not to turn the building into a museum.”
What is it like to develop new business for an architectural masterpiece that should also be protected?
“We want to preserve the unique spirit and iconic spaces of the sanatorium. We will restore some of the spaces to their original condition by, for example, bringing back the strong colors used in the interior. We collaborate closely with the Finnish Heritage Agency. However, it’s important to have the confidence to make changes, since our intention is not to turn the building into a museum. This place needs to be vibrant and keep up with the times. In my opinion, there’s room for new aesthetics, as well.”
The new era of Paimio Sanatorium is about to begin. If Helander’s and the foundation’s visions are realized, in only a few years, the sanatorium will be an interesting cultural destination attracting tens of thousands of visitors and a bustling building that looks into the future.
Does the CEO of the foundation dare to gaze into the crystal ball once more to see what the place will look like in five years?
“I believe that by that time, Paimio Sanatorium has become the most revolutionary building in Finland. Not only because of Aalto’s architecture and design, but also because there is always something new and surprising to see.”
Text: Anna-Kaisa Huusko Portrait: Kanerva Mantila Images: Antti Vettenranta