Finnish Defence Forces Buildings

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Photo: Helsinki Motorized Company barracks (Martta Martikainen). MFA
  • PlaceSeveral locations
  • Completion 1930s–40s
  • Decade1930s
  • PeriodConstructing the identity of a newly independent nation
  • Year of selection1993


Independent Finland founded its own defence force institutions in the period between the two world wars. The buildings were designed from 1928 onwards in the Construction Bureau at the Ministry of Defence’s Technical Department – and exceptionally many women architects worked in the bureau. Also the building construction was managed within the framework of the same organization. The Defence Forces’ requirements regarding architectural design were closely aligned with the ideals of Functionalism: hygiene, standardization and technology. By means of progressive architecture, the image of a modern and dynamic defence force as well as a modern nation was established.

The Tilkka Military Hospital (1934-36, 1957-65) in Helsinki, designed by architect Olavi Sortta, was one of two major central military hospitals built in Finland in the 1930s, the other being the Viipuri Military Hospital completed in 1931. In Tilkka each of the hospital functions was placed in its own separate building volume. The most characteristic feature of the nine-storey, light-rendered patient department is the semi-circular balconies that follow the outline of the rounded gable. Both the patient rooms and the balconies are favourably oriented towards the south and south-west. The ward department has a cubic volume, as does the heating plant, with a cylindrical service stairs winding around its chimney flue. The design of the operating theatre department was unique in Finland; four operating theatres placed around an octagonal central hall, with auxiliary spaces between them. The patient wards were extended in the 1960s as a curved low wing designed by Olavi Sortta. The extension changed the totality, making it more balanced than the original.

Tilkka showed the influence of American hospital design, whereby the development of lifts and service shafts enabled the transition from horizontal to vertical movement. Inspiration for the form language came from both Alvar Aalto’s Paimio Sanatorium from 1933 and the expressive architecture of Erich Mendelsohn. Ornamentation denoting the national defence forces was concentrated in the entrance hall, where architect Ragnar Ypyä’s relief “The battle of good and evil” was placed.

The military hospital operations came to an end in 2005. The following year the state sold the building to the Etera pensions insurance company, which converted and renovated it in 2006-09, with plans by Parviainen Architects, for use as the Tilkka Care Centre. The originally spacious surroundings changed when residential and office buildings were built in the neighbourhood.

The accommodation and service facilities of the Helsinki Motorized Company barracks (1934-1936), designed by Martta Martikainen, were housed in a three-storey wing, with offices and a lecture hall in a second wing. The floor plan of the part housing the soldiers is based on a wide side corridor placed along the street side. The soldiers’ quarters face west, overlooking the barracks compound. Originally garages and a repair workshop were included in the barracks. The garages were accessed between two building volumes with curved walls.

On its completion, the Helsinki Motorized Company barracks represented a barracks type in which particular attention was paid to the soldiers’ hygiene conditions by placing sanitary facilities on each floor. It was the first “modern Finnish” barracks, and was also presented as such in the press. The barracks were a concrete manifestation of the design principles that the Ministry of Defence was aiming for in the design of new barracks; an example of the simultaneous high-quality implementation of the modernist form language and its design principles.

The “car boys” of the Car Battalion moved out of the barracks and in 2015 the buildings were converted into service apartments for the elderly. The former parking garage was converted for use as a local supermarket. The design work for the alterations and restoration was carried out by Parviainen Architects.

Immola Air Force Base 6 (1935-38), designed by Aulis Blomstedt, Elsi Borg, Elis Hyvärinen and Kyllikki Halme, is nowadays used mainly by the Finnish Border Guard. Immola was the first air force base in Finland implemented in accordance with modernist design principles. The design of the uniform complex was the result of cooperation between several architects. The architecture of the individual buildings, both in its overall form and details, is an expression of international modernism. Several basic building types were designed for the area, such as residential buildings, technical buildings and hangars, and these same types were utilised in the 1930s in a number of other barracks areas.

The buildings at Immola are scattered amidst a forest in accordance with the principles of modernist town planning. The reason for the placement was also defensive; after all, a military attack was to be expected, specifically from the air, and by scattering the buildings, the chance of destruction in air raids was minimized. The residential areas for officers and non-commissioned officers were separated from each other and the central air field. Built along the road leading to the central area were the main guard building, military headquarters, canteen and barracks. According to military protocol, separate clubs were built for officers and non-commissioned officers, and a mess hall, the so-called “Soldiers’ Home”, for conscripts. Additionally, each group had its own sauna. At the edge of the airfield were two aircraft hangars. The most distinguished building in the area is the officers’ club designed Elis Hyvärinen.

The Immola area has over the years retained its original character, although the canteen and barracks buildings have been extended in a way that is incompatible with their original expression.

The operations of the so-called Soldiers’ Home began in the 1920s when a women’s voluntary group rented premises in barracks areas. The aim was to create a recreation facility for conscripts with a “home-like” feel. The next stage involved building separate buildings for the Soldiers’ Home Societies The most distinguished of these was a rendered brick building in Koria, from 1938, designed by Elsi Borg, who worked at the Ministry of Defence, but who designed the building at her own private architect’s office.

The Soldiers’ Home in Koria represents Borg’s personal interpretation of international modernism. The form and details of the building contain references to ocean liners. The round window in the gable incorporates a stained-glass window with the emblem of the Soldiers’ Home Society. The building can be seen as a total work of art, in that the same architect designed all aspects, including the landscaping with flowering plants and trees.

The military operations in Koria were discontinued and since 1994 the area has been in civilian use as a residential and recreation area. The Soldiers’ Home was sold to a private owner, and is currently in use as a banqueting facility for private functions.

The construction of the Santahamina Military Academy (1939-41), designed by Olavi Sortta, was linked to the intended 1940 Helsinki Olympic Games. The academy was to accommodate athletes following the same system as used at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. The Olympic Games were used as a justification for the construction of a swimming pool connected to the academy. Six buildings were built for the academy: the main building, which comprised the cadets’ accommodation, education and sports facilities, an indoor swimming pool and sauna, as well as a canteen, barracks, teaching and residential buildings, and horse stable.

The Military Academy buildings form an architectural totality in which all the details form an integral part. The buildings are also characterised by asceticism, the separation of functions into separate building masses, the use of shiny surfaces to emphasise the significance of light, and the interiors opening up via large windows into the surrounding nature. The hierarchical position of the building used as both a canteen and festival hall is emphasised by the richer interior decoration and the use of higher quality materials than in the other buildings.

The Military Academy buildings were the last representative example of the Functionalist works designed at the Construction Bureau of the Ministry of Defence’s Technical Department. After the war, responsibility for the planning work was transferred to private consultants. The Santahamina Military Academy buildings have been well preserved, and were carefully restored in the 1990s and early 2000s. The complex is still in the use of the Finnish Armed Forces, and from 1994 onwards the National Defence University.


Anne Mäkinen

Arkkitehtitoimisto Schulman (2006). Tilkka 1936–2006. Rakennushistoriaselvitys (painamaton / unpublished).
Kilkki, Minna (toim.) (2008). Tilkan verran tarinoita. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura.
Mäkinen, Anne (2000). Suomen valkoinen sotilasarkkitehtuuri 1926–1939. Helsinki. Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura.
Mäkiö, Erkki (1996).  ”Funkisrestaurointia. Immolan kasarmialueen korjaus”. PTAH 1/1996.
Nieminen, Jarmo (2012). Santahamina sinivalkoinen saari.  Helsinki: Maanpuolustuskorkeakoulu.
Teränne, Raimo (1997). ”Lentohalli / Hangar”. Arkkitehti 2/1997.

Projects by same architect

Several architects