Field Reports

Timber construction growing in Finland

September 2011 rendering of Sitra's ground floor showing the timber facade, finish materials and precast concrete podium on which the timber frame/CLT office building sits © Sauerbruch Hutton
September 2011 rendering of Sitra's ground floor showing the timber facade, finish materials and precast concrete podium on which the timber frame/CLT office building sits © Sauerbruch Hutton

There are many advantages to using timber as the principal structural material in large buildings (also see this):

  • on the economic side, timber reduces conveyance and logistical costs, reduces construction time and eases work performed by downstream trades
  • on the environment side, timber building materials provide long term carbon sequestration; when harvested sustainably, timber stocks tend to improve carbon sink capacity over un-managed land
  • socially, especially in Finland, timber is a preferred finish material for its warmth, texture and connection to historic buildings and nature

Timber construction was identified early in the Low2No project as a promising way to meet our sustainability principles and is being developed as the main structural and finish material for Sitra's office building, a first in Finland.

As mentioned earlier, SRV and VVO (our client team partners) were unable to rationalize timber construction for the residential buildings, citing market conditions and other risks as limiting factors. At the time, Finland's new fire code (developed with Sitra) that allows for multi-story timber construction was hot off the press and I think the known unknowns of this code's implementation introduced too much risk into a project already loaded with "many innovations."

One 8 story CLT building binds 850 return trip flights from JFK-LHR eCO2

But just last week, SRV announced that it had entered into a partnership with Finland's forestry giant Stora Enso to build a mixed-use (commercial, office and hotel) timber building in Jätkäsaari! We are thrilled with this development. This is something we have been pushing for a long time and we hope it to be the next step that starts a wave of timber construction across Finland.

The project will use Stora Enso's proprietary approach to multi-story cross laminated timber (CLT) construction. Interestingly, their marketing for the product focuses in the quantity of carbon that an 8 CLT story building will bind for the long term. Turns out, it is about the same as 850 return flights from London to New York City! Watch their promotional video here.

While we would have loved to see this partnership initiated under the banner of the Low2No block, it is clear that Low2No is exercising a gravitational force that is pulling the industry foward and beginning the long transition to a future built environment that is carbon neutral.

October 13th, 2011

Posted by: Justin W. Cook

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Category: Field Reports

Low2No Camp: the making of urban entrepreneurs

A guest post by Outi Kuittinen of Demos Helsinki reporting on this week's Low2No Camp round table:

Low carbon living is about low-energy buildings, superb public transport and smart metres. It is also about groups and individuals that make our cities more beautiful, more flexible, more satisfying, more democratic and more sustainable. Low2No Camp organised by Demos Helsinki with support from Sitra, started this May by bringing together 25 passionate urban activists from Helsinki. To feed their imagination and to raise their bar higher, we shipped them to Berlin in a cargo ship to teach and to learn how to make our cities more sustainable and better to live. Back in Helsinki, we asked them to build their solution for a sustainable city and let them loose.

In summer months the campers were busy organizing their usual stuff like Helsinki Night Bike Rides, Ravintolapäivä (Restaurant day), Kallio Block Party, Punajuuri Block Party and farming urban vegetables. But on those hot days they also scribbled a lot of Post-its, discussed over Facebook, met face to face and sketched presentations thinking and thinking how to scale up what they are doing.

This week in Jätkäsaari they came out to potential partners. What we saw was our urban enthusiasts grown into urban entrepreneurs. They want to change the way we produce our food, use our space, dress ourselves and think of our possibilities to make the city our own. We are very proud to present 100 Ways to Eden, Hukkatila Ltd, pukuhuone.fi, School of Activism and Aquaponics Finland.

What is common to these ventures is that they don't do it all ready for us but enable us, the citizens of the city, to do ourselves.

100 ways to Eden is a cooperative that scales up urban farming. First they will take Pasila and create an urban farming centre in an old railway yard. It will harbour education, research and development on urban farming, plus exhibitions, food markets and gastronomic experiences. Next they will take Europe and Russia.

Hukkatila Ltd is a development company exploring the blue ocean of built environment: the mis- and underused square- and cubicmetres of the city. That is, for example the offices outside working hours, the basements of block of flats, derelict houses, areas waiting for the construction to start. The streetwise experts of Hukkatila will couple these spaces with right users in need, develop concepts to bring the space alive and invest in building the activity.

Pukuhuone.fi (The Dressing room) believes that in ethical and ecological consumption clothes are the new food. Pukuhuone.fi is a web-based service that helps us to develop our own style by providing well-edited inspiration, bringing us the providers that offer quality and style instead of fashion and throwawayism, enabling us to lend and rent clothes and telling how to take care of our belongings.

School of Activism continues what Low2No Camp started. It builds networks of passionate actors and seeds urban activism where its needed. It travels to help local people to solve the problems of their city. From the point of view of the public sector, School of Activism helps to commit the citizens to their city and to bring about fresh solutions. For companies it offers new creative contacts and ideas.

Aquaponics Finland is a closed system of food production that supplies us with plenty of fish and vegetables – grown in our homes, schools and neighborhoods. And it does it with 70% less energy compared to the normal cultivation.

These urban start-ups are out and they are serious. Want to help them fly? Check their contact details on their presentations or contact them through Outi: outi.kuittinen(at)demos.fi.

Thanks Outi!

September 23rd, 2011

Posted by: Justin W. Cook

Category: Field Reports

A Prize for Experientia and Low2No

Congratulations to our friends and colleagues at Experientia for winning Italy's National Prize for Innovation in Services! 

Early user-energy interface developed for Low2No by Experientia and the Design Team
Early user-energy interface developed for Low2No by Experientia and the Design Team

In Rome, the President of the Italian republic, Giorgio Napolitano, awarded Experientia for their work in the Low2No project as part of Italy's National Day of Innovation. The award cited Experientia's planning of "a residential area in Finland with low CO2 emissions, using innovative methodologies devised in Italy." 

Experientia's President Michele Visciola receives the Italian National Prize for Innovation in Services from the President of the Italian Republic Giorgio Napolitano [Experientia]
Experientia's President Michele Visciola receives the Italian National Prize for Innovation in Services from the President of the Italian Republic Giorgio Napolitano [Experientia]

See Experientia's press release and an interview with Senior Partner Mark Vanderbeeken. We are thrilled for Experientia and excited that Low2No has received international recognition for its innovative approach to improving the built environment. Our congratulations to Jan-Christoph, Mark, Irene and the Low2No team at Experientia!

June 15th, 2011

Posted by: Justin W. Cook

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Category: Field Reports

Visit to Katri Vala district heating and cooling plant

Those embarking on major urban developments often conduct study tours in order to benchmark their plans against current best practice. As Low2No begins to pick up pace, we’re beginning to become a stop on such tours, even though there’s only a hole in the ground in terms of tangible progress at Jätkäsaari.

Katri Vala district heating and cooling plant, Helsinki [Dan Hill]
Katri Vala district heating and cooling plant, Helsinki [Dan Hill]

Last weekend, the Low2No team received visitors from a major urban planning project in Melbourne, Australia. I’d worked on that project’s initiation stage when at Arup, co-running one of the original design charrettes with Grimshaw Architects, who make up the project’s core designers with Field Operations out of New York. So it was great to see familiar faces at a very different latitude, and lead them through 24 hours worth of download about Low2No and the context of urban development in Helsinki.

Katri Vala district heating and cooling plant, Helsinki [Dan Hill]
Katri Vala district heating and cooling plant, Helsinki [Dan Hill]

The Australian-based team, led by the Victorian State Government, and in particular the State’s urban development arm, VicUrban, were particularly interested in our take on energy generation and consumption, including behaviour change and consumer attitudes, in terms of Low2No. As they’d just flown in from Stockholm that morning (previously having seen projects such as Bo01 in Malmö and Orestad in Copenhagen), I woke them up with a brisk walk around Töölönlahti, still beautiful despite the slate grey skies and northerly breeze. And later that afternoon, we hosted a summit at Sitra HQ, with Sitra project leaders Jukka Noponen and Marco Steinberg.

In between, however, we hosted a tour of Helsinki’s best-kept secrets— the vast, underground district heating and cooling system at Katri Vala Park in the Sörnäinen district.

Katri Vala district heating and cooling plant, Helsinki [Dan Hill]
Katri Vala district heating and cooling plant, Helsinki [Dan Hill]

Niko Wirgentius of Helsingin Energia was kind enough to give up his Saturday afternoon to show us around this extraordinary facility. There’s more information at the Helsingin Energia website, though it’s probably fair to see that this is something you have to experience in the flesh to understand the significance of this scale of investment.

Niko led our team through an unmarked door and down into the plant. It’s around 25 metres underground though there are numerous tunnels leading in and out that go a lot deeper. The equipment is of course enormous, contained within cave after cave blasted from the firm bedrock that Helsinki sits upon (which is what partly enables the city’s extensive network of subterranean infrastructure.) Equipment is manufactured all over Europe, with the country of origin represented by a flag stuck on the side. These plants are connected by energy tunnels and service corridors which run for tens of kilometres, sometimes via underground lakes, in all directions.
Wirgentius is quick to point out that it’s the world’s largest heat pump, but what the facility does is simple; it just does it at scale.

Katri Vala district heating and cooling plant, Helsinki [Dan Hill]
Katri Vala district heating and cooling plant, Helsinki [Dan Hill]

“A high volume of purified wastewater, the heat of which is utilised in district heat production, flows in the wastewater outfall tunnel 24 hours a day. In winter, heat energy is obtained with heat pumps from purified wastewater, which is led from the Viikinmäki central waste water treatment plant to the sea. In winter, the necessary district cooling energy is obtained direct from the sea with heat exchangers. In summer, heat energy is transmitted from the return water in district cooling, in which case the heat pumps produce both district heat and district cooling. If all of the heat produced in the summer season is not needed, the extra heat can be condensed into the sea.”

It’s a great example of a form of symbiosis, in which the waste from one system is the input into another, and the plant supplies around 40,000 residents in the district above with heating and cooling, most of whom are oblivious to the infrastructure beneath their buildings (the plant’s exact location is secret.)

The scale of investment is also impressive – the ability of the city to plan for the future by investing in such infrastructure impressed the Victorian team no end. But, as Wirgentius pointed out, the city is probably going to be around in 20 years, and will probably require some heating; it’s not a risky investment in that sense.

With Low2No, we’re currently exploring a mixed approach to energy generation, including photovoltaic for partial energy generation as well as geothermal, and with the bulk of heating and cooling requirements handled by a bio-heat product developed by Helsingin Energia. The Australian team were also interested in our approach to behaviour change and consumer behaviour, which has been developed by Arup and Experientia so far. More to follow on all that.

Katri Vala district heating and cooling plant, Helsinki [Dan Hill]
Katri Vala district heating and cooling plant, Helsinki [Dan Hill]

You don’t have to be an infrastructure geek to be impressed by Katri Vala — though those of us in the team who are had to be dragged away from exploring some of the deeper tunnels —but the aspects that the Victorian team were still talking about late into evening atop the Hotel Torni were the ability for a city to not only plan sustainable infrastructure requirements into the future, but to make and deliver upon the investment case too.

June 6th, 2011

Posted by: Dan Hill

Category: Field Reports

Low2No Conference, Helsinki

On Tuesday we hosted about 150 guests from the media, The Finnish Association of Architects (SAFA) and the Finnish Association of Civil Engineers (RIL) to "open the books" on our design process and discuss the current state of the block in Jätkäsaari. While there was little interaction from the audience in the larger forum (which everyone tells me is a common outcome in Finland), it was generally seen as a remarkable event because we made public an incomplete design proposal and were willing to discuss the challenges we faced in getting there (it is apparently standard practice to go public only with the winning competition proposal and the final, permitted design). 

Johanna Kirkinen, Sitra; Jean Rogers, Arup
Johanna Kirkinen, Sitra; Jean Rogers, Arup

As an introduction, I will post this statement from Sitra as a placeholder until we can publish their full presentations:

A low-carbon city block in Jätkäsaari, 08 February 2011

Sitra, in co-operation with SRV and VVO has developed the Low2No Project, which is a new model for sustainable urban development. The city block being developed in Jätkäsaari is the first tangible output of the Low2No approach. As part of this innovative project, we are announcing a nearly zero energy city block with a new renewable district heating product from Helsingin Energia and a timber construction solution for Sitra's future offices.

Low2No is an abbreviation of the phrase "from low carbon to no carbon," recognizing that we must transition our cities to a more sustainable future. The project includes multiple initiatives aimed at producing a sustainable, low carbon built environment and creating the preconditions for an ecological urban life. Through continuous development, Low2No will gradually shift the ways that cities are built through application of practical measures that balance economy, ecology and society.

Geothermal pre-design
Geothermal pre-design

The energy efficiency of buildings and technology are only one small part of sustainable urban development. It is also critical to enable low carbon, low energy consumption habits which increase the well-being of people and reduce impact on the environment.

Building integrated photovoltaics
Building integrated photovoltaics

The city block in Jätkäsaari is the first location where the Low2No model will be developed and specified in practice. In addition to apartments and Sitra's headquarters, the block will have grocery stores offering local food, an ecological laundry, public sauna, cafe and opportunities for small-scale urban cultivation. The team of international and Finnish designers of the block introduced the project's current status at a sustainable urban development conference arranged jointly by Sitra, the Finnish Association of Architects, and Suomen Rakennusinsinöörien Liitto on 8 February.

"SRV and VVO will build about 200 apartments in the block, and Sitra's new premises will be built there. Over half of the apartments will be owner-occupied, and some of them will be funded through the Hitas system. The rest will be rented apartments of VVO," says Timo Kokkila of SRV and Esa Kankainen of VVO.

"Sitra's office building will account for slightly less than one-third of the permitted building volume of 22,000 square metres and it will be built of wood," says Jukka Noponen, Sitra's Energy Programme.

Energy production bundles or options to meet EPBD
Energy production bundles or options to meet EPBD

The project is designed to comply with the nearly zero energy use and optimized on-site renewable energy production requirements that will be established under the EU's Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) which will take effect in 2020. In addition, negotiations with Helsingin Energia lead to the development of a coal-free, renewable district heating product that will provide heating energy for the block. It is hoped that this agreement will accelerate the replacement of fossil fuels with bio-fuels in Helsingin Energia's fuel mix. Other energy solutions include a geothermal heat system for pre-heating the ventilation system, district cooling, and building integrated solar power technologies to meet a significant portion of electricity demand. The block will also have a smart energy network and real-time electricity monitoring to optimize use and reduce emissions. 

February 11th, 2011

Posted by: Justin W. Cook

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Category: Field Reports