Armchair, 'Paimio', laminated and ply birch wood, designed by Alvar Aalto, Finland, 1930-1931, made by Artek, Finland, 1986
Alvar Aalto (1898-1976) was a Finnish architect and designer, known for his humanising and sensitive design ethic. This chair formed part of the furniture Aalto designed for his Paimio Tuberculosis Sanatorium, a medical facility set up for Tuberculosis (TB) sufferers, slightly north of Turku, between the two World Wars. Aalto won a competition for its design in 1928 and its construction was complete five years later. It was the first project where Aalto designed both the building and its furnishings.
The architectural design for the Sanatorium reflected the needs of patients, with insulated walls to minimise the usual hospital noises; balconies and windows oriented to capture the maximum amount of direct sunlight (a key treatment in a TB patient's recovery) and draftless window ventilation to reduce dust and maintain a constant air temperature. Aalto extended these sympathetic design features to the smaller scale medium of furniture. As demonstrated with this armchair, Aalto used wood bending technologies to create organic forms which best suited the natural contours of the body. At a time when tubular steel and severe geometrical designs were still popular, especially among designers like Marcel Breuer and Mies van der Rohe, Aalto turned to more traditional materials. He believed wood was warmer and alleviated the coldness of an institutional feeling. It was also lighter and cheaper; it could be easily curved, stretched or compressed and it was naturally quite buoyant. Given these capabilities, Aalto set the chair at a 110 degree angle (to support a TB patient's breathing); the front of the arm was curved to provide a secure support when getting up; the surface of the chair could be easily cleaned, which made it sanitary, and there were air vents in the top back of the chair to ventilate the user's neck. Aalto was also mindful of the chair's construction. He experimented with different types of plywood for three years leading up to the 'Paimio', ensuring its strength through the varying thickness of the sections, as well as the interior bending tensions of the seat back.
This armchair complements the Tea Trolley '900' also in the Museum's collection (97/317/1). It was designed by Aalto to be used by nurses dispensing medication to patients at the Sanatorium.
Assistant Curator, Design & Society
This chair was produced from birch, a timber heavily forested in Finland.