Lastenlinna [“Children’s Castle”] children’s hospital was founded in 1918 for single mothers and their children by Sophie Mannerheim, a baroness and head nurse at the Helsinki surgical hospital. During the 1920s, on the initiative of the paediatrician Professor Arvo Ylppö, it evolved to become a childcare institution under the General Mannerheim League for Child Welfare, as well as serving as a teaching institution for children’s nurses.
The design of Lastenlinna was begun by architect Kaarlo Borg in 1938. He became ill and died the following year, and so the work was taken over by his sister, Elsi Borg together with Olavi Sortta and Otto Flodin. The extension carried out in 1958 is also by Elsi Borg. The design team included Lisa Johansson-Pape, who designed the lamps which are an integral part of the interior. The client representatives, Arvo Ylppö and Agnes Sinervo, the head nurse at the surgical hospital, had an influence on the design process; both had travelled abroad studying various children’s hospitals and treatment facilities and brought back with them ideas for the planning process. The construction of Lastenlinna was one of the greatest public construction projects of its time. During the entire planning and construction period, monetary donations were received by means of various fundraisers, and the building became a symbol of the post-war reconstruction for the entire nation.
As a result of the lengthy planning and construction phase, the architecture of Lastenlinna became a synthesis of the Functionalism of the 1930s and the romantic trends of the 1940s. The combination of a tower-like dormitory section and curved four-storey ward section as well as the rational floor plans are associated with Functionalism. The design also sought to maximize the availability of fresh air and sunlight. The decorative render of the facades, the wall reliefs and decorative sculptures are, in turn, expressions of the post-war romantic trends. The decorative eagle and its chicks incorporated in the façade of the tower had already been used in the 1920s in the emblems of both the General Mannerheim League for Child Welfare and Lastenlinna, and represent self-sacrificing maternal love. The eagle reliefs, made by master plasterer Yrjö Kyllönen, were designed by the sculptor Sakari Tohka, whose handiwork is also evident in the heavily stylized, decorative sculptures symbolizing new methods of childcare.
The rich facade decoration also faced criticism and rejection among architects. The mineral-render facades and relief patterns created too great a conflict in the context of modern hospital architecture. The facades have been fairly well preserved and repaired with a conservation-based approach. Almost all the windows and exterior doors, however, have been renewed. In the interior, for instance, the plasterwork in the chapel has been well preserved. The tower has the best preserved floor plan. The central corridor layout in the curved ward section has been preserved, but the changes have otherwise been significant.
Lastenlinna Children’s Hospital is listed on the DOCOMOMO Finland registered selection of important architectural and environmental modernist sites.
Text: Maarit Henttonen / DOCOMOMO Finland