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What Will Architecture Look Like Post-Pandemic?

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What Will Architecture Look Like Post-Pandemic?


June 23, 2020
Architect looking over blueprints
Photo: SolisImages

When tuberculosis ravaged the nation in the 19th century, architecture dramatically changed as a result. People began connecting modernism and sleek design with overall health, according to The New Yorker. White walls and bare floors were testimonies to someone’s well-being, and were reminiscent of hospitals. Now that architecture and disease are intersecting once again and people's only option was staring at their interiors all day, architects predict dramatic shifts. The pandemic is not only anticipated to change home architecture, but the use of public spaces, office design, and more. 

In 1933, the Finnish architect and designer Hugo Alvar Henrik Aalto, along with his first wife, Aino, completed the Paimio Sanatorium, a facility for the treatment of tuberculosis in southwest Finland. The building is rigidly geometric, with long walls of expansive windows wrapping its façade, light-colored rooms, and a wide roof terrace with railings like the ones on cruise ships—all the hallmarks of what we now know as modernist architecture, which emerged in the twenties from the work of the Bauhaus, in Germany, and Le Corbusier, in France.

But the Aaltos’ choices of material and design weren’t just aesthetically fashionable. “The main purpose of the building is to function as a medical instrument,” Hugo would later write. Tuberculosis was one of the early twentieth century’s most pressing health concerns; each element of the Paimio was conceived to promote recovery from the disease. “The room design is deter­mined by the depleted strength of the patient, reclining in his bed,” Aalto explained. “The color of the ceiling is chosen for quietness, the light sources are outside of the patient's field of vision, the heating is oriented toward the patient’s feet.” (The combination of cold feet and a feverish head was seen as a symptom of the disease.) Broad daylight from the windows as well as the terraces, where patients could sleep, was part of the treatment, as sun had been proved effective at killing tuberculosis bacteria. At the sanatorium, the architecture itself was part of the cure.

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