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 Werkstatte 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 of cubes furnish the hallway and are decorated with fabrics that are designed with geometric black and white shapes. Even the lamps, tables and window designs mirror similar geometric patterns. By doing so, what Hoffmann has created is a harmonious environment that is both practical and visually soothing The sanatorium provided a diverse offering of programs and resources to patients.
Their services included hydrotherapy, electrotherapy, special diets, etc. Their facilities included billiard rooms, reading rooms, music rooms, saloons, etc. Patients could access everything they needed to feel comfortable. The effective layout planning of the building contributed to effective therapy practices. Utilities and services were hidden in the basement, social gathering and dining spaces were on the first floor, and living quarters were on the second and third floors. This separation of spaces due to functions created an intuitive organizational structure.
The luxury and layout referenced the style of a grand hotel, but included many quality health related benefits. With an array of functional offerings, each room in the sanatorium was designed to best serve the function of the room. For example, the bedrooms intended for tuberculosis patients had the largest windows to allow the greatest amount of sunlight possible. 5 Just as functionally focused as the exterior, Hoffmann used the same concept of practicality when designing the interior elements of the Purkersdorf Sanatorium.
As a traditionally trained artist, Hoffmann was not just an architect, but innovator in product and interior design as well. Because he was idealistic about his work, Hoffmann strived to attain the concept of Gesamtkunstwerk or total work of art. Similar to his most famous work of architecture, the Palais Stoclet, Hoffmann single handedly lead all creative decision making to create a cohesively designed and functional building. While the specific functions of different rooms had different compositional layouts and decorative elements, Josef Hoffmann consistently incorporated the simplicity of modernism to all the designs.
Especially in furniture, Hoffmann utilizes repetition of black and white colors and simple clean lines to maintain a cohesive theme. The radical simplicity he presented redefined the concept of space and how objects were arranged in spaces. Many of the furniture pieces had a cubic quality that contributed to the concept of mobility and could be easily rearranged and still maintain its aesthetic role. One notable piece of furniture Hoffman created was the sitzmachine. The chair functioned as the first adjustable recliner to give patients added comfort but still embodied the refined design and rectilinear forms that he identified with.
This piece is significant because of how it summarizes Hoffmann’s philosophy to fuse structural and decorative elements with the most elementary shapes and forms that are also reflected throughout the rest of the building. While the Purkersdorf Sanatorium remains a significant piece of architecture for introducing Josef Hoffmann’s, at the time, profound design concepts; the construction process of the building was not an experience that he wanted to remember. From Hoffmann’s autobiography, he states that there were irreconcilable disputes between the client Zuckerkandl and Fritz Warndorfer (Hoffmann’s partner in the Wiener Werkstatte).
As the problems escalated, Zuckerkandl finally refused to provide agreed payments because he was unsatisfied with the construction of the sanatorium. In addition, he also replaced Hoffmann with the architect Leopold Bauer to complete construction. This incident also caused Hoffman to leave Wiener Werkstatte to become and architecture professor in Stubenring. While Wiener Werkstatte and other firms that contributed to the construction eventually won all the lawsuits and received their promised funds, resolution did not occur in time to stop Bauer from constructing an extra story to the building in 1926.
Hoffman was highly against this alteration to his design because it countered his original intentions of simplicity, but due to the lawsuits involved, the design of the Purkersdorf Sanatorium was not restored to Hoffmanns original design until 1991. As the design of the Purkersdorf Sanatorium was altered over time, the purpose of what it was used for was also changed. Originally intended to be a high end medical retreat, the sanatorium quickly became a social gathering place for the upper class patients from all over the world.
However, due to the Soviet War scare of 1927, the building was taken over after Bauer’s reconstruction of an additional story and used a military hospital for Soviet Union troops. During that time of occupation, many pieces of furniture and artwork were stolen from the building. After more changes of ownership, the sanatorium eventually found its role as a home for the elderly. As of 1995, the building was fully restored with reproductions of Hoffmann’s designs to resemble its initial glorious state.
Through the passage of time, the Purkersdorf Sanatorium has not only been changed in function but also altered in appearance. However, Josef Hoffmann’s bold designs and forward-looking creations have no doubt impacted succeeding modernist architects. One can still clearly understand the functional and decorative intentions behind his creations. Hoffmann’s philosophy to combining practicality and high aesthetics were seamlessly integrated in the design of the Purkersdorf Sanatorium to reflect communication between the science community and architects and remain heavily influential.
Bibliography Christian Brandstatter, Vienna 1900? : Art, Life & Culture. (New York: Vendome Press, 2006). Josef Franz. Hoffmann, Selbstbiographie = Autobiography. (Ostfildern:Hatje/Cantz, 2009), 99 Josef Franz. Hoffmann, Josef Hoffmann? : Architect and Designer, 1870-1956. (New York: Galerie Metropol, 1981). Museum of Modern Art, Sitzmaschine Chair with Adjustable Back (model 670). http://www. moma. org/collection/object. php? object_id=3431. (Oct. 2012). Leslie Topp, An Architecture for Modern Nerves: Josef Hoffmann’s Purkersdorf Sanatorium. CA: University of California Press,1997). Lund Humphries, Maddness and Modernity: Mental Illness and the Visual Arts in Vienna 1900. (UK: Butler Tanner & Dennis Ltd, 2009), 86-89. WOKA Lamps Vienna, Sanatorium Purkersdorf. http://woka. com/en/info/building/sanatoriumpurkersdorf. asp. (Oct. 2012). ——————————————– [ 1 ]. Lund Humphries, Maddness and Modernity: Mental Illness and the Visual Arts in Vienna 1900. (UK: Butler Tanner & Dennis Ltd, 2009), 86-89. [ 2 ]. Lund Humphries, Maddness and Modernity: Mental Illness and the Visual Arts in Vienna 1900. UK: Butler Tanner & Dennis Ltd, 2009), 86-89. [ 3 ]. Christian Brandstatter, Vienna 1900? : Art, Life & Culture. (New York: Vendome Press, 2006). [ 4 ]. Josef Franz. Hoffmann Josef Hoffmann? : Architect and Designer, 1870-1956. (New York: Galerie Metropol, 1981). [ 5 ]. Leslie Topp, An Architecture for Modern Nerves: Josef Hoffmann’s Purkersdorf Sanatorium. (CA: University of California Press, 1997). [ 6 ]. Lund Humphries, Maddness and Modernity: Mental Illness and the Visual Arts in Vienna 1900. (UK: Butler Tanner & Dennis Ltd, 2009), 86-89. 7 ]. Josef Franz. Hoffmann Josef Hoffmann? : Architect and Designer, 1870-1956. (New York: Galerie Metropol, 1981). [ 8 ]. Museum of Modern Art, Sitzmaschine Chair with Adjustable Back (model 670). http://www. moma. org/collection/object. php? object_id=3431. (Oct. 2012). [ 9 ]. Josef Franz. Hoffmann, Selbstbiographie = Autobiography. (Ostfildern:Hatje/Cantz, 2009), 99 [ 10 ]. WOKA Lamps Vienna, Sanatorium Purkersdorf. http://woka. com/en/info/building/sanatorium-purkersdorf. asp. (Oct. 2012).