The Functionalist Awakening of Alvar Aalto in the Kinkomaa Tuberculosis Sanatorium. Each thing in its place and a distinctive aesthetic for each one.

Cecilia Ruiloba Quecedo

Working paper
Alvar Aalto Researchers Network 2012


Alvar Aalto's project for the Kinkomaa sanatorium competition in 1927, which was never built, is in itself a synthesis of thoughts translated into drawings, through which Aalto expresses his vision of architecture, at a time of personal transition from classicism to functionalism.

The instability of the present age, in which architecture is experiencing a constant process of transformation, means that it is stimulating to study not only the most paradigmatic works by the master, but also those earlier ones which show the gestation of his personal architecture, with its hesitations and failures, and thus be able to decipher what the keys are which led him to perfect that architecture.

In this way, through the study of one of Aalto's first projects, we gain an insight into one of his last thoughts, about error or the so-called "human factor" and the importance of this in architecture. This research aims to show, by means of analysis of Aalto's writings and the drawings of his projects, how the Kinkomaa sanatorium represented a turning point in his professional career, and a graphic compendium of his architectural theories. It also seeks to clarify the proposals that favoured the evolution of his architecture, the same ones which, in the future, will make it possible to alleviate the effects of our inevitable mistakes. For this, the Kinkomaa sanatorium is compared to another, later sanatorium, that of Paimio.

Aalto's classicist origins are still present in Kinkomaa, but they are barely perceptible in the Paimio sanatorium project; however, the artistic dimension and the technical transcendence which define his projects are recognisable in both, and his incessant striving to combine architecture with the natural environment and with man, in a harmonious symbiosis. This symbiosis, moreover, constitutes the ultimate aim of tuberculosis sanatoria, buildings conceived to cure patients by means of environmental therapies through the sun, pure air, and a healthy life in a natural environment.

But the main characteristic of the Kinkomaa sanatorium is the organisation of the building into different parts. For the first time, Alvar Aalto uses this functionalist strategy, present again and again in the rest of his projects; applying to his construction concepts already present in his conception of urban planning. So, in an article about the centre of the city of Jyväskylä published in 1924, Aalto had already described the spatial and formal criteria that would subsequently be applied in Kinkomaa, in which he sought to order "each thing in its place, in environments which correspond to their functions", and establish "a distinctive aesthetic for each one"; criteria which were also put into practice in the Paimio sanatorium, complementing them with others of a psychological and biological nature which imbued it with its peculiar formal flexibility.


The formal evolution of the floor plan for the Paimio sanatorium during the project process. Drawings made by the author.

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Cecilia Ruiloba Quecedo
Profesor Asoc. Dpto. de Teoría de la Arquitectura y Proyectos Arquitectónicos