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Joseph Lemaire Sanatorium

Tombeek, Belgium
1 of 8

The Joseph Lemaire Sanatorium, completed in 1937 in Belgium, is one of the masterpieces of sanatorium typology, which spread from the end of the 18th Century to the 1930s, when they were characterized by the principles of the International Style. Lemaire Sanatorium was designed by Maxime Brunfaut with a main hospital building, a wing for general services and superposed leisure rooms. The Modernity of this work is traceable certainly in the composition and in the constructive technology of the complex, with a capable use of modern materials. Brunfaut's formal language is strongly modern also thanks to the distinction amongst functions, services, spaces dedicated to clinic duties, to the leisure and to administrative functions. Great importance is also given to the technical features, either under the principles of Hygienism either to the Functionalism of the Modern Movement. Unfortunately at the end of the 1980s it was dismissed, so the building was exposed to degradation and vandalism that transformed this site into a devastated ruin with serious problems affecting fixtures, inner spaces and loaded parts. Despite its inscription as a historical and architectural monument in 1993, only in 2011 the Flemish Minister of Cultural Heritage started its restoration, which is still far from being concluded.

Sanatorium Architecture

The architectural response to improve living spaces, making them more luminous and ventilated, was promoted by new formal and constructive approaches at the end of the 19th Century: new building systems, such as steel and concrete frames, allowed architects to be free from bearing masonry thanks to pillars and beams (sponsored by Hennebique Company since 1880s) and to formulate new theories about buildings, openings, empty - full relationships, formal compositions etc. Through the progress of modern construction and architecture theories a new order of things replaced the old one and buildings were changing: far from Neoclassicism and Romanticism, architects refused Eclecticism to clean and light forms, banding decorations and unnecessary features. Proto - modern architecture, recognizable in buildings like Josef Hoffmann's Purkersdorf Sanatorium in Wien - answered to the need of light, sun, ventilation and accessibility of sanatoriums designing elements that would have soon become peculiar of the later Modern language: terraces, garden roofs, balconies and closable verandas were traduced and performed by Modern Movement into flat roofs, pedestrian roofs, ribbon windows, bow windows, free plants and so on. If we think of sanatoriums and clinics, we refer to the 1930s projects by Alvar Aalto, Duiker and Bijvoet and H. G. Pingusson, who designed their sanatoriums applying excellently the principles of the Modern Movement, conceiving architectural aspects, furnishings, hues andtechnologies to improve patients' health and lives.

On July 15, 1934 La Prevoyance Sociale bought an area of 33 ha 49 a 40ca, located on a 85 m high table-land where geographical conditions were optimal for a sanatorium. The wide avenue leads to the sanatorium, while in the foothills we find several separate service buildings: the concierge's house, house of a doctor (partly destroyed by a fire), a mortuary, the residence of the staff, laundry and technical buildings. The Sanatorium, designed to host 150 male patients, is composed by a main building reserved to the hospital, 120 meters long, whose main facade is south - oriented, a two - storey perpendicular wing, directed to northwest, containing general services, a ball room and a leisure room, that forms a superposed low wing bulging over the ground floor on southeast.

The northwest wing contains on the ground floor the entrance and medical services: control rooms, such as offices, laboratories and radiology; surgery group with surgery rooms, sterilization, disinfection and anesthesia; stomatology, otolaryngology and hydrotherapy. Half of this floor extends for half into the basement of the main building and a large stair leads to the ball room, partly subterranean. On the first floor of the northwest wing there are the refectory, the meeting rooms for patients, the corridors and therapeutic galleries. Corridors slope into the play room over the ball room. On the same floor, kitchens communicates with refectory by an intermediate office; they are linked to the service of preparation of meals (peeling, butchery, fridges etc...), placed on the second underground floor of northwest wing, two an elevator hoist, an elevator and a stair. Between the ground floor, with medical services, and the second subterranean floor, with rooms annexed to the kitchens and the stores, there is an intermediate floor on the northwest side reserved to nurses: it is composedof 12 rooms, meeting and resting rooms.

Patients' rooms are located onto the three upper floors in the main building, with accommodations from one to three beds. In the patients' wing on the ground floor there are terraces to be used by patients to practice heliotherapy, facing the French gardens. Medical services comprehend also the dependences for the staff, the guardian's and the gardener's houses, the manager's house, heating station, laundry and watering pumps. The Sanatorium took obviously in great consideration the importance for patients' health that underwent heliotherapy: the cure open gallery was therefore placed in both the south and north facades, extending over to the entire width and depth of the patients wing. The gallery was on two cascading levels, where double rows of lounger could be disposed and supporting column structure was studied to avoid shade zones, offering to each patient a maximum views and sunlight. As in the most cases, much attention was paid to the leisure and entertainment aspects for able - bodied patients in the facility, whose minimum staying lasted eight months. Therefore architects designed collective spaces, such as a dining room, lounge, library, card room and an entertainment hall. The latter was developed into a horseshoe - shaped fully glazed pavilion, which extents half underground, intended for film and stage performances. Above this extended volume there is an identical room for billiards and related activities. This projecting body lengthening in the middle of the garden put itself as an arresting volume in the seemingly limitless facade of the long main structure. On the other side, in the north facade, this stress finds its counterpart in an openwork rotunda, looking like a theater, combined with a covered terrace that overlooks to the Valley Lane.

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lchiselef, September 20th, 2017
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