Walking around Töölö recently we had a good view of one of the best named buildings in Helsinki – the Lastenlinna (“Children’s castle”). This pediatric hospital was built after World War II, opening in 1948 to replace the hospital’s previous premises in Kallio. Back then the neighbourhood (Täkä-Töölö) was on the outskirts of Helsinki (you can see it on a map here), a quite place located between the see and the forest. However, one of the city’s main roads now passes right by it (connecting the city centre to the main highway leading west) – which is why we’d already seen the building from the road many times, but never been able to get a good look.
Due to a shortage of funds after World War II, much of this building was paid for through the fund-raising efforts of volunteers – including the famous composer Jean Sibelius, who organized a concert to benefit the construction of the hospital (you can read more about the hospital’s history at the websites of the Mannerheim League for Child Welfare and the Lastenlinna Foundation, or in a downloadable PDF from the Helsinki hospital district).
The building was designed to avoid straight corridors (considered unpleasant for the children) and to maximize the number of rooms that could receive direct sunlight (according the references listed above). But for me, the most striking part of the building’s design is the fine details which give the place a sense of fun: the fences shaped like gingerbread-men or flowering vines, the intricate plastering covering the entire dormitory tower, the sculptured window frames, and the decorated balcony balustrades. I think the architects did a great job 65 years ago – this building could easily have looked dull or sterile, but instead the place really does live up to its name, hopefully raising the spirits of those visiting it. This year Lastenlinna was one of the tour venues during Open House Helsinki – if they offer a guided tour again next year I’d like to be there!