Designed by Alvar Aalto, the Paimio Sanatorium is considered one of the architect's functionalist masterpieces. Any of you ID majors who took a History of Architecture course will remember the rounded balconies and the airy interiors. And though it was designed for tuberculosis patients in the 1930s, during the time of COVID the design saw a resurgence of press, with publications eager to present spaces designed to promote health and recovery.
Aalto designed not only the building itself, but the Sanatorium's furniture, lighting fixtures and even the washbasins in the rooms. It's that latter object we want to focus on here. A little-known fact is that Aalto, who competed in a design competition for the commission, had gotten sick by the time the winning results were announced:
"I was ill at the time I received the [Paimio Sanatorium] commission, and was able to experiment a little with what it means to be really incapacitated," Aalto wrote, as quoted in "Inseminations: Seeds for Architectural Thought." While bedridden, Aalto experienced discomfort that led him to criticize the design elements of the room he was in. "There was no inner balance, no real peace in the room that could have been designed specially for a sick, bedridden person…. [With Paimio] I therefore tried to design rooms for weak patients that would provide a peaceful atmosphere for people…."
"…Incredibly small details can be used to alleviate people's suffering. [For example, the] washbasin. I strove to design a basin in which the water does not make a noise. The water falls on the porcelain sink at a sharp angle, making no sound to disturb the neighboring patient, as in the physically or mentally weakened condition, the impact of the environment is heightened."
Following its manufacture, Aalto chose the noiseless washbasin for his own bathroom.