Architect Engel’s design for Lapinlahti Hospital for the mentally ill was approved in 1836. As the hospital started functioning in 1841, it was modern and advanced both in layout and in its objectives.
Director C. D. von Haartman had taken actively part in the planning and he understood that a mind’s illness may be cured. He stood for treatments that would permit the patients to return to normal life, whereas the older asylums had typically prioritized in keeping the patients isolated from the society. The resources that Lapinlahti were shown is a good example of the benevolence and humanity of the Russian emperor Nicholas I.
The hospital building was composed of a two-storied corps-de-logi which was flanked to the west by the patients’ wings, forming a courtyard closed by a masonry wall. Towards the east was the entrance yard flanked by one-storied housing wings for the personnel.
Compared with Engel’s public buildings in the centre of the town, this edifice was designed to be rational and ascetic, with almost no decorative elements. Later, a second storey was built on the eastern wings and the western wings were further elongated. The park area surrounding the building has been an important part of the atmosphere created.
The building performed in its original use until 2008. The complex is owned by the City of Helsinki who has since 2015 rented the spaces to civic activist societies promoting artists and handicrafts workshops and cultural happenings, as well as rehabilitation activities for mental patients. The arrangement has a temporary overtone but the present liveliness of the old hospital area goes in line with the goodwill Helsinki has shown towards all citizen activism.
text: Kati Winterhalter