The Purkersdorf Sanatorium and the Fusion of Function and Design Stark white and machine-like from a distance, the Purkersdorf Sanatorium designed by Austrian architect Josef Hoffmann emanates a feeling of sterility. However, the building also exhibits a hint of luxurious charm upon closer observation. As the first major commission for the Wiener Werkstätte company, Josef Hoffmann was determined to introduce his forward looking ideas to the era. Through the sanatorium, Hoffmann successfully demonstrated not only the visual appeals of modern simplicity but also how modernism was appropriately adjusted to enhance the building’s intended purpose. Having studied under renowned architect Otto Wagner, Josef Hoffmann was familiar with the famous principle coined by Louis Sullivan: “Form ever follows function.” This idea of fusing innovation with functionality fueled Hoffmann’s enthusiasm about creating designs that were solutions - beautiful and necessary solutions. In contrast to the dirty and crowded government funded asylums, sanatoriums were fabulous retreats that included recreational facilities and medical services. The Purkersdorf Sanatorium for nervous ailments was commissioned by the affluent industrialist Viktor Zuckerkandl in 1904 to serve as a treatment center for wealthy patients. Many doctors believed that illnesses, at the time, were results of nervous exhaustions caused by sudden physical and social pressures from the expansion of modern cities. The sanatorium would be a refuge for patients to escape stresses and recuperate their bodies and regain their spirits. The facility was designed holistically to provide inhabitants with premier technological equipment and unrivaled service quality. Even the location was chosen through careful consideration. Purkersdorf was a chosen as a prime spot for therapeutic healing because of its remote coordinates in the Vienna Woods and pure air quality. To ensure that the building fulfilled its potential, Hoffmann also aligned his strategies with doctors to create a unique healing experience. Hoffmann embraced the fundamental concept of healing when designing the sanatorium in its entirety. From the facade, the building resembled a stack of standard white blocks arranged in a symmetrical shape. The structure is bare and free of traditional elements but an effective reflection of purity and order. The windows were the building’s only ornamentation, and they were fully functional. Each creative decision was made to add value to the building’s overall atmosphere. The windows were enlarged to utilize the natural sunlight and specially designed ventilation systems were installed to maintain a constant flow of fresh air. Small gardens and balconies were also created on the flat roofs to serve as places where patients could relax and receive therapy. Hoffman’s geometric and forward looking style also showcased the blank reinforced concrete walls. Using state-of-the-art technology, steel-reinforced concrete was a popular material because it was not only structurally stable but gave a desired smooth and clean surface to unify the entire resort. Although not made from expensive materials, the bright whiteness of the walls gave the structure a refreshing look that contrasted with the deep green surroundings. To Hoffman, the core of modernism was about disposing of all unnecessary elements to understand the how most basic shapes and forms can be rearranged to serve a purpose. Each material or design element chosen for the Purkersdorf Sanatorium was carefully selected by Hoffmann based off their power to contribute aesthetically and functionally.
Referencing the whiteness and rigid geometry of its exterior, the interior of the sanatorium was also designed to give patients a feeling of hygiene and purity. The main hallway, for example, has a black and white tiled floor with rectangular reinforced concrete beams exposed at the ceiling. White wooden chairs in the shape...
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