This bentwood chair is an icon of Modernist furniture originally conceived by Finnish designer Alvar Aalto as one of several furniture designs intended for a new tuberculosis sanatorium in Paimio, Finland which Aalto won a contest to design in 1929. Aalto, in partnership with his wife Aino Aalto, sought to achieve the highest level of comfort possible for patients in every aspect of the project, focusing on both the architecture of the building itself in addition to furniture and fixtures.
This particular chair model was located in a number of areas used by the patients, including the common room.
In accordance with what was known of the disease at the time, the Aalto's designs for Paimio focused on ventilation, sun therapy and positioning the patient to ease symptoms and aid in respiration. The back of this chair was set at a particular angle which would have allowed the patient to recline into a position in which they could breathe more easily.
Aalto selected local wood for this chair, utilizing Karelian Birch for the chair seat, a rare variant of burled Birch which only grows in a small region of southern Finland bordering Russia. Aalto favored natural materials for the furniture designed for Paimio, believing that it would offer a superior sensory experience in comparison to the cold tubular steel found in furniture by contemporary designers Marcel Breuer and Le Corbusier. Aalto achieved the sinuous, curving lines of this chair through lamination, a relatively new technique at the time which went on to influence Mid-Century designers like Charles and Ray Eames.
Height: 25 inches (63.5 cm)
Width: 24 inches (61 cm)
Depth: 32 ½ inches (82.5 cm)
Examples of the Paimio chair in birch are in the collections of the following institutions:
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art (2000.375)
- The Museum of Modern Art (710.1943.1)
- Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum (2008-5-1)
- The Minneapolis Institute of Art (98.276.155)