Architecture and technology : Alvar Aalto's Paimio Sanatorium

Marianna Heikinheimo

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisMonograph


The doctoral dissertation of Marianna Heikinheimo, Master of Science in Architecture, Master of Fine Arts, in the field of architectural history Architecture and Technology: Alvar Aalto's Paimio Sanatorium discusses the relationship between architecture and technology in Paimio Sanatorium (1928-1933), designed by the renowned Finnish master architect, Alvar Aalto. The building is considered the turning point in Aalto's career and one of the most significant works of international Modernism in the inter-war period. In the face of increasingly rapid industrialisation and urbanisation, European architecture was at the time undergoing a dramatic ideological shift. Aalto came into contact with avant-garde architects through the organisation Congrès Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne (CIAM) from 1929 onwards. Aalto's aim with the design of Paimio Sanatorium, the most challenging assignment of his career so far, was to apply the new approach to architecture.The theoretical underpinning for the study is the actor-network theory developed by the French sociologist Bruno Latour (1947). Besides the social theory, it also assigns a role for material factors in the evolution of technological systems. In this theory, the relationship between social and material actants is reciprocal, an observation which opens up interesting angles into architectural research. For the purpose of this dissertation, I understand symbolic expression in architecture as a system with its own logic and, in contrast, construction as a technological system forming the framework within which the practical problems of building are resolved. According to the British architect and scholar Alan Colquhoun, symbolic representation and empirical building are parallel systems. Symbolic representation is based on facts while architecture is bound to a given social, technological or economic situation in time. A building with all its qualities and features has, in the present study, been understood as a technological system formed by people, organisations and material actors. The case study deals with the interaction between the architect and the other stakeholders within the scope of one building project. Aalto won the open architectural competition in 1929 and was able to influence the overall design solutions of the building from the very beginning of the project. This study investigates how Aalto managed to reconcile international ideology and local building culture in a country where the degree of industrialisation in the building sector was relatively low. Specific attention has been given to the solutions that were new at the time, such as the heating, ventilation, sewage and electrical systems: who knew how to implement them and what were the critical points to consider in developing the solutions; were the systems sufficiently ready to be used as such, or did the architect or other project stakeholders contribute to their development; is it plausible to understand them as being part of Aalto's tectonic approach in a way similar to the well-known concrete frame of the sanatorium?
Translated title of the contributionArchitecture and technology : Alvar Aalto's Paimio Sanatorium
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Lapintie, Kimmo, Supervising Professor
  • Suominen-Kokkonen, Renja, Thesis Advisor
Print ISBNs978-952-60-6568-7
Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-6569-4
Publication statusPublished - 2016
MoE publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)


  • Alvar Aalto
  • modernism
  • Paimio Sanatorium
  • Finland
  • CIAM
  • hygiene
  • rationalism
  • rationalisation
  • standards
  • technology, Bruno Latour
  • actor-network theory
  • construction history
  • hospitals
  • TB sanatoriums


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