Admired as much for its sculptural presence as for its comfort, the Paimio Chair is a tour de force in bentwood that seems to test the limits of plywood manufacturing. The chair's framework consists of two closed loops of laminated wood, forming arms, legs, and floor runners, between which rides the seat—a thin sheet of plywood tightly bent at both top and bottom into sinuous scrolls, giving it greater resiliency. Inspired by Marcel Breuer's tubular-steel Wassily Chair of 1927—28, Aalto chose, instead, native birch for its natural feel and insulating properties, and developed a more organic form.
The Paimio Chair, the best-known piece of furniture designed by Aalto, is named for the town in southwestern Finland for which Aalto designed a tuberculosis sanatorium and all its furnishings. Used in the patients' lounge, the angle of the back of this armchair was intended to help sitters breathe more easily.
Aalto's bentwood furniture had a great influence on the American designers Charles and Ray Eames and the Finnish-born Eero Saarinen. In 1935 the Artek company was established in Finland to mass-produce and distribute wood furniture designed by Aalto and his wife, Aino. Most of their designs remain in production.
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999