All posts by Justin W. Cook

Justin W. Cook is working at the intersection of climate change and the built environment. He led content development for the Low2No competition and is focusing on Low2No as a development model that aims to balance economy, ecology and society through strategic investments and interventions in existing cities.

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

Tags:  

Category: Field Reports

41. Week in Review

BIM model screen shot of Sitra's timber office ©Arup
BIM model screen shot of Sitra's timber office ©Arup

Back on the job here at Low2No. Work has been proceeding at a blistering pace in London and Berlin as our design team prepares to deliver our L2, or design development, drawings next week. This is a significant point in the project's progression as "end of L2" is when the local designers will take a leadership role in project implementation.

Interior BIM model screen shot of Sitra's timber office ©Arup
Interior BIM model screen shot of Sitra's timber office ©Arup

This month is the moment when the client team will step back and perform two critical tasks: costing and project review. Even in strong markets, a €60M investment can cause some consternation. But as the euro's stability decreases with every news cycle, we have some difficult decisions ahead of us.

We are committed to a triple bottom line plus carbon (TBL+CO2) approach and will review this next phase with this principle as our top level priority. It is increasingly clear that planning requirements and real estate costs make development in Helsinki difficult, especially without basic government support instruments (such as feed-in-tariffs), but we hope to find a way to make a low carbon, mixed-use development economically viable. 

BIM model screen shot of Sitra's timber office ©Arup
BIM model screen shot of Sitra's timber office ©Arup

Interior BIM model screen shot of Sitra's timber office ©Arup
Interior BIM model screen shot of Sitra's timber office ©Arup

The client team is working to develop a joint company (landlord/janitor company) to own and manage the block's common infrastructure, energy infrastructure (PV), commercial space, and parking. When developing a block-wide sustainable solution, shared ownership provides critical synergistic benefits and is necessary to manage the block's shared resources as one entity. A joint management company solution is a new step toward social sustainability in Finland.

Sitra is also organizing a meeting with leadership from the real estate industry who are involved in writing new legislation for "3D" real estate formation (mixed-use code)—possibly to be implemented for the first time in our block. A mixed-use code will allow challenging ownership conditions to be overcome more easily, such as the one we face in our block, where the basement can have property lines independent from above ground property.

Word comes from Jukka this week on two projects he is shepherding: the European 11 Competition (he is a jury member and will tell more once it is public) and a board meeting of the LAICA project which helps individuals commercialize innovative energy solutions. The Energy Programme has continued to expand its impact and we look forward to more.

October 7th, 2011

Posted by: Justin W. Cook

Category: Weeknotes

Welcome back to Low2No!

Over the past 6 months, we have been hard at work designing and building a new home for Low2No. This new site is intended to both be a place to learn more about the city block that we are building in Helsinki's Jätkäsaari district (recently named Airut, but more about that later) and provide a platform for a global discussion around transitioning the built environment to a low carbon future.

Diagram of the website's "code commits" since April 2011. A code commit is when the developer takes a snapshot of the site and saves it as it is being coded. In this phase, there were 336411 lines of code added, 32001 lines deleted.
Diagram of the website's "code commits" since April 2011. A code commit is when the developer takes a snapshot of the site and saves it as it is being coded. In this phase, there were 336411 lines of code added, 32001 lines deleted.

Thank you to XOXCO for their tireless work on the back end of the site, and to Muotohiomo for design. Well done. Also thanks to my colleagues Bryan, Annemaria, and Olli.

The city block now has its own section on the site: the Block page where we will discuss the latest developments in its design, energy and carbon strategy, support of the people that will occupy it and some of the materials that have been developed by our team along the way.

We still believe that our Low2No competition was one of the most innovative approaches to sustainable design of the built environment anywhere, so we have refreshed and explained the many dimensions of that project here.

To the sustainability/carbon discussion side, we are beginning to open up a new area of work called the Low2No model. Low2No has always been a broad project with many initiatives. This had to do with the nature of challenge (the built environment has an extremely large set of stakeholders and areas of work), and also Sitra's mission (we work between sectors to promote systemic change).

Under the banner of the Low2No model, we are looking more directly at how our transitional approach to decarbonizing the built environment can and is being applied outside of our development project in Helsinki. We hope that this area of work will flourish following some key decisions that will be made by Sitra in the coming months.

Our new site coincides with the release of three articles, or in-depth looks at the issues central to the challenge of sustainability and the built environment as told by leading professionals from around the world. 

David Wood from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government discusses the role of private finance in building a sustainable city. Tuuli Kaskinen and Roope Mokka from Demos Helsinki reflect on their work in enabling individuals to help consumers make more energy and carbon conscious choices. And Federico Parolotto and Francesca Arcuri from Milan-based Mobility in Chain propose a better way of managing mobility and transportation planning.

These are original articles supported by Sitra and are the first of a series that will be published every month or so.

we are looking more directly at how our transitional approach to decarbonizing the built environment can and is being applied 

Finally, we will be publishing a series of dossiers that provide a broad look at issues such as carbon, energy in buildings, enabling people to make more sustainable choices, smart systems and services etc. The dossier format provides a way to expose and organize the myriad of issues, challenges and recent developments that each topic encompasses. 

This site will live and breath as we move forward with the Low2No project and will provide us the flexibility to add content as we go. Please check in regularly or subscribe to our RSS feed. And let us know what you think!

October 3rd, 2011

Posted by: Justin W. Cook

Category: Project Updates

Holcim Awards Sitra's Office Design!

The venerable Holcim Foundation has awarded Sitra's office building design an acknowledgement prize! Congratulations to Sauerbruch Hutton Architects (as main authors), Arup and Experientia! The Holcim Jury recognized the multi-story timber office design as being exceptional and the low-to-no carbon emissions principle as a significant contribution to sustainable development.

Juan Lucas Young and Andrew Kiel (Sauerbruch Hutton); Jan-Christoph Zoels (Experientia); Leo Mittelholzer (Holcim Foundation)
Juan Lucas Young and Andrew Kiel (Sauerbruch Hutton); Jan-Christoph Zoels (Experientia); Leo Mittelholzer (Holcim Foundation)

The Jury statement read: In terms of its construction and program, the office building is commended by the jury for achieving the aspired principles of transferability, transparency and inventiveness. All of the construction, even the cores and the prefab façade panels will be entirely in Finnish timber – globally an innovation for a 26m high 6-storey office building. Beyond these measures, the project has a successful holistic approach towards its design, connecting social, ecological, aesthetic and economical demands on a high level and it is thus an outstanding example of how sustainable architecture can be achieved on a larger scale. More in the award report here.

We hope that this award will help raise the profile of timber construction and an integrated design approach here in Finland. 

September 24th, 2011

Posted by: Justin W. Cook

Category: Project Updates

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

Tags:  

Category: Field Reports

22. Week in Review

Some great video from Demos at Low2No camp in Berlin:

Nice work! We hope to have a guest post from the Demos folks once everyone has had some time to reflect.

Low2No Informatics Workbook
Low2No Informatics Workbook

Also this week, it is time that I catch up on some overdue news. I am very happy to announce that Dan Hill of Arup and City of Sound fame (among others) has brought his family to Helsinki and joined our team! Dan was instrumental in framing and delivering Low2No’s informatics workstream on the design team side (see some of his Low2No Informatics Workbook below). We are lucky to now have him on the client side, although I am sure he feels a bit of whiplash. As he settles into his role at here at Sitra, look for him to uncover realization of the informatics workstream and Sitra’s organizational evolution into its new HQ through his future posts. In addition to being a tremendous ambassador for the project, he will be key in developing what’s next for Low2No. Welcome Dan!

Low2No Informatics Workbook
Low2No Informatics Workbook

Low2No Informatics Workbook
Low2No Informatics Workbook

June 5th, 2011

Posted by: Justin W. Cook

Category: Weeknotes

21. Week in Review

This week, a reminder of one of principal motivations for this project:

Ruoholahti Coal Delivery from Sitra- Finnish Innovation Fund

What you see is coal from Eastern Europe or Russia being offloaded into hoppers that carry the coal into one of the world's largest underground coal storage facilities. Ruoholahti used to be home to another "world's largest." See the 8 story coal pile that used to be stored above ground before the cavern was completed. 

Jätkäsaari as seen from the south. In the white box is one of the city's largest combined heat and power plants and it's coal pile in the background
Jätkäsaari as seen from the south. In the white box is one of the city's largest combined heat and power plants and it's coal pile in the background

There are many issues raised by this footage: carbon emissions, climate change, energy security, wealth transfer, independence, etc. In some ways, it is unfortunate that Ruoholahti's coal pile has been pushed underground, out of public view. 

May 27th, 2011

Posted by: Justin W. Cook

Tags:  

Category: Weeknotes

Diagramming Landscape

Landscape design of the Low2No block is underway with Berlin-based Sinai and Sauerbruch Hutton

Rather than show their early proposals, posted below are a series of diagrams that attempt to situate native elements of the Finnish landscape on our site. The process (layering images on sketches) is straightforward, but the results are not. Careful manipulation of the image scale opens possibilities for landscape to communicate intent as much as say, building integrated renewables. Landscape will help to position the project in the public's imagination; a piece of the city with distinctly Finnish DNA, but adapted to a new century where performance vies with aesthetics and geometry for top billing. 

Low2No block landscape diagrams
Low2No block landscape diagrams

May 26th, 2011

Posted by: Justin W. Cook

Category: Project Updates

16-20. Week in Review

It's been a busy four weeks:

  • The design team delivered the schematic design document set.
  • The client team pored over the drawings and Arup's very useful Basis of Design documents to find out just what the last year of work has lead to and where changes/clarifications need to be made.
  • Comment sets were issued to the design team by each client.

The design team has now taken the comments and begun the arduous task of incorporating them into the design to produce the final schematic design of the Low2No block. This level of design basically locks-in the overall design of the project (massing, structures, MEP, etc) and its performance targets. The project will soon shift into a mode more focused on implementation with upcoming goals including permitting and detailed costing.

Design of the "public bits" of the project has also been ramping up. Facades, landscaping, community areas and retail are all taking shape in very exciting ways! Check out some of the landscaping diagrams in the next post!

Low2No Camp on the ferry back to Helsinki [Demos Helsinki 2010]
Low2No Camp on the ferry back to Helsinki [Demos Helsinki 2010]

In other news, our Energy Programme has initiated a project with Demos Helsinki and Experientia called Low2No Camp (their blog is here). The aim is to mobilize a group of city activists who are already carrying out actions which support low-carbon living, food, and services and attempt to develop groundbreaking projects in the spirit of Low2No. The project began mid May in Berlin at the DMY Berlin International Design Festival.

Low2No Camp in Berlin [Demos Helsinki 2010]
Low2No Camp in Berlin [Demos Helsinki 2010]

In order to kick-start the projects, a roundtable will be held in the coming months, gathering various stakeholders to whom the ideas will be presented with the hope of mobilizing local businesses to start developing opportunities for sustainable urban living.

Also, last week I participated in a panel discussion on integrating design into city planning at the New Finnish Design Scenarios event held in NYC and hosted by the Finnish Consulate. Together with Rick Bell (Executive Director AIA NY), Hannu Kähönen (CEO of Creadesign), David Resnik (Deputy Commissioner NYC DDC) and moderator Peter MacKeith (Associate Dean, School of Design and Visual Arts Washington University), we tried to tease out some similarities between NYC and Helsinki (of which there seem to be few!) and share our experiences working in the often difficult city planning machinery. One theme that received the most attention was the degree of control that cities exercise over their spatial evolution. NYC seems to rely more on the carrot than the stick, incentivizing developers and architects to pursue spatial, social and environmental goals by providing special conditions that are favorable to their bottom lines. The City of Helsinki, on the other hand, rigidly defines the "areas" in which an architect or developer can work, carefully circumscribing what is possible in the city. For a panel interested in introducing/preserving design in city planning, you can imagine which side we favored. 

May 25th, 2011

Posted by: Justin W. Cook

Category: Weeknotes

14-15. Week in Review

Low2No is developing greater detail on many fronts: from cost estimates and coordination studies to synergistic mechanical systems and sky lights in the sauna. The volume of work is growing exponentially putting pressure both on our ability to apprehend the state of the project as well as the efficacy of our archiving systems (our Basecamp site is ballooning!).

As we close on summer, many of our outstanding design decisions should be made, allowing me to share publicly more project images and information. Check back! 

Project output is piling up!
Project output is piling up!

April 19th, 2011

Posted by: Justin W. Cook

Category: Weeknotes

12-13. Week in Review

Design continues in Helsinki. We have been working to coordinate building components such as air handling equipment and photo voltaic panels on the buildings' roofs, fresh air intakes and facade build-ups, etc. Energy modelling is becoming more refined for the apartments and Sitra's offices. It seems likely that we will be able to achieve our progressive energy targets. Simultaneously, Arup has begun a cost effectiveness analysis of our energy strategy that under-girds our energy targets. Taken together, the strategy and costing will provide a valuable reference for future projects in Helsinki that will be looking to blow past regulations and current industry practices.

Eat&Joy © Dan Hill
Eat&Joy © Dan Hill

Sauerbruch Hutton is turning a bit of its attention to design of the retail spaces. Our retailers/service providers needs are being collected and coordinated by Eeropekka Rislakki, one of Eat&Joy's founders. One of our designers' challenges will be to translate the retailer's specs into spaces that are specific, yet adaptable for future alternative needs. Of all of the Low2No block's potential benefits, the vibrancy it will add to the Jatkasaari neighborhood will likely be the most evident and talked about by Helsinki's residents. It is our hope that this will make clear that carbon mitigation is yes, an abstract, difficult goal, but in realizing it, we can enjoy a better more delicious life.

Eat&Joy © Dan Hill
Eat&Joy © Dan Hill

Week 13 also marked the first full push toward a new low2no.org! We have contracted with local firm Muotohiomo to provide graphics and user experience and Austin, Texas based XOXCO building the site and reusing some of the backend they originally developed for helsinkidesignlab.org. Exciting! 

April 5th, 2011

Posted by: Justin W. Cook

Category: Weeknotes

11. Week in Review

Week 11 marked the beginning of our co-location scheme described last week. While I was not there, this method seems to already be bearing fruit. The design of the block is beginning to "click" according to Marco, and the disparate needs of the client partners are being translated into the project in a more robust and rapid way. Good news for everyone as we are closing in on our June detail design deadline.

One challenge has been Finland's still somewhat mysterious floor area measurement unit: the "kem." Kem boils down to a way of calculating a development's square meters minus a deduction for mechanical systems and a standard dimensional deduction for insulation/wall cavity. As an unusual Finnish construct, this has caused some confusion among the design team, but through an aggressive auditing regime, we all seem to now share an understanding of exactly what "22,000 kem of allowable development area" means and that the Low2No block will meet this allowance.

Sketch of the block plan and detail of interior "deck" over the basement
Sketch of the block plan and detail of interior "deck" over the basement

Detail design is a flicker between scales. The designer is at once designing at the scale of a city block and the detailed scale of material connections at key interfaces. The simultaneous flood of sketches and plans on our project's Basecamp site is testament to this exciting phase that separates architectural design from so many other disciplines. Here we are endeavoring to transform abstract ideas into concrete, purpose-built things. 

March 25th, 2011

Posted by: Justin W. Cook

Category: Weeknotes

07-10. Week in Review

basecamp is blowing up
basecamp is blowing up

The last three weeks have had a pace that is at times blistering and occasionally seemingly at a stand still. This is, I think a product of this phase of the project where teams are working out specific issues in focused, small teams. Arup has been tackling structural and ventilation issues while Sauerbruch Hutton has been finalizing detail design of the apartments, service areas and Sitra's new HQ. Experientia continues to push forward our demand management systems and low carbon retail and service offerings.

Communication between teams (both client and design) continues to be a challenge. This is partially due to the technical nature of the work at this stage as well as the diaspora that is the project team, but there are many other factors as well. To improve communication and mitigate the impact of miscommunication, we have initiated a co-location scheme where representatives from each firm will work together in Helsinki 2-3 days each week. This is bad news for our carbon footprint, but good news for our aggressive project schedule and ambitious scope. The days in Helsinki will mostly be spent in focused working sessions, but each week will conclude with an all-team meeting chaired by Marco, with an exciting output for those of us working abroad: meeting minutes! It seems likely that we will realize progress on the project's most complicated challenges much more quickly and effectively over the coming weeks. Hopefully I will be able to post more fresh content from the project to this blog as well. 

Marco, using our geotechnical report to point out the block's position over one of the original granite islands of Jätkäsaari
Marco, using our geotechnical report to point out the block's position over one of the original granite islands of Jätkäsaari

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, work has commenced on site. And the results are in! Well, geotechnical results anyway. But exciting nonetheless. Our assumptions about our site's location over one of Jätkäsaari's original granite islands were correct. This will translate into a smaller foundation (read lower embodied carbon) and an interesting condition for our geothermal pre-heating/cooling system. But more on that later.

Also, exciting news! Low2No.org will be refreshed soon. Finally we will be moving on from the site's current competition focus to one that covers not only the city block in Jätkäsaari, but also the continued development of Low2No as an idea about how to transition our cities to a low carbon future. We hope to have more rich content streams, both visual and textual, as well as guest authors writing on related issues. Stay tuned. 

March 16th, 2011

Posted by: Justin W. Cook

Category: Weeknotes

A little local press (in English)

We are Helsinki (the city's free culture magazine) published this interesting take on the Low2No project. Take a look!

Screen shot from Low2No's writeup in We Are Helsinki
Screen shot from Low2No's writeup in We Are Helsinki

Project update coming soon, I promise.

Interim sketch of the block's interior
Interim sketch of the block's interior

March 4th, 2011

Posted by: Justin W. Cook

Category: Weeknotes

06. Week in Review

Other than the Low2No conference covered in the previous post, this week's big news: work is commencing on site! A detailed geotechnical evaluation was conducted to determine just where our site sits above one of Jätkäsaari's original 3 islands, and to what degree we will need to contend with fill or steeply sloping rock when it comes time to building our foundations or drilling geothermal bore holes.

Jätkäsaari is starting to grow: note the rubble piles that will become part of the harbor's massive regrading project
Jätkäsaari is starting to grow: note the rubble piles that will become part of the harbor's massive regrading project

Sitra, SRV and VVO together with an outsized legal team began the painful legal wrangling that will determine exactly how the shared infrastructure of the block will be managed. In this case, we are extending "infrastructure" to include soft things like the retail and services that will be a part of every building on the block, as well as more traditional forms of infrastructure such as the parking level. In this case we will also be adding photovoltaic and geothermal systems to the infrastructure list.

As it is not within the normal business purview of any one client partner, these critical components that enable us to create a truly mixed-use block that leverage synergies between elements to productive effect, such as reducing per capita carbon emissions and improving enery efficiency, will need to be carefully developed and safeguarded. First and foremost, a legal framework has to be developed that sets the conditions of ownership and partnership, especially among the retailers. Risk must be handled in a way that makes each client partner comfortable in investing in the block's non-standard components. And tax issues and future liabilities must be imagined and addressed. This is no small task. But if done right, it could be one of the most transferrable products of the Low2No project thus far.

Carbon mitigation via investments in renewables organized at the district scale.
Carbon mitigation via investments in renewables organized at the district scale.

This week we also broke ground a short study that will hopefully shed some light on the potential for financial mechanisms as a carbon mitigation tools working at the district scale. One of the many compelling ideas in the Low2No competition was turning Jätkäsaari into a carbon neutral district by creating a revolving fund that would invest in renewable, carbon-free electricity generation. The idea was strong, but Jätkäsaari's long development time frame made it quite difficult to implement as residents and business will be trickling in over the next 15 years. So, together with GreenStream Network here in Helsinki, Sami Tuhkanen from Energy and I will do a quick survey of what's happening now in Finland in this space and provide a set of recommendations for future initiatives. 

February 15th, 2011

Posted by: Justin W. Cook

Category: Weeknotes

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

05. Week in Review

Sitra office flexible ownership and occupation study
Sitra office flexible ownership and occupation study

It was a fairly quiet week this week. Marco and I were on conference calls with Sauerbruch Hutton and Arup every two days to help push along the Sitra office design. We found that frequent communication helps to reduce surprises while allowing us to refine our design goals without having to issue the perfect, comprehensive brief. The challenge with so much communication is to back off and let the designers do their work.

Timber core finite element analysis
Timber core finite element analysis

Johanna brings word that Sitra's in-house sustainability/carbon reduction activities are ramping up. There are 18 different action areas all geared toward reducing Sitra's carbon footprint. They broadly fall into 6 groups: communications, transport, energy and material efficiency, procurements and waste.

Special attention is being paid to the people that will analyze and implement the low carbon actions. Our new headquarters will only enable choices, we still need to make sure that they are good ones. 

February 8th, 2011

Posted by: Justin W. Cook

Category: Weeknotes

04. Week in Review

This week our design team has been working frantically to finalize the concept phase documents to reflect the decisions that have been taken by the client team. The project needs to quickly move into the design development phase if we are going to meet our permitting targets later this year.

Timber framing sketch for Sitra Office
Timber framing sketch for Sitra Office

Sitra's project team has been working closely with Sauerbruch Hutton and Arup to further develop our timber office solution. It seems that we have found a good way to deal with the limitations imposed by fire classifications and now massing and interior layout studies are in full swing. We hope to reveal a fairly comprehensive schematic design during the February 8th event! 

Timber cassette sketch for Sitra Office
Timber cassette sketch for Sitra Office

Jukka brings word from the Low2No Board that we will be naming the block something other than Low2No–a decision that reflects our purposeful distinction between the Low2No "Model" and the products it generates. Like naming a child, this has been extremely difficult and unfortunately we will not be able to take advantage of the Finnish tradition of waiting 6 months or so after birth to find the best name!

Jukka also hosted the Nordisk InnovationsCenter as they visited Sitra on Thursday. Sustainable buildings are coming on to their agenda and Low2No seems to be an interesting benchmark for them. Hopefully we will have a chance to share Low2No with them in the coming months. 

February 2nd, 2011

Posted by: Justin W. Cook

Category: Weeknotes

03. Week in Review

This week, Marco and I were with Bryan at the Umeå Institute of Design conducting a strategic design studio with students. Umeå is a beautiful town and the compressed studio experience was exhausting, but interesting and fun. Some results here.

Umeå bicyclists on ice
Umeå bicyclists on ice

On Wednesday we took a break from Umeå to host a Low2No meeting at Sitra's offices in Helsinki. On the table was fire protection, centralized versus decentralized ventilation systems, PV system sizing and integration, and ground floor planning. Progress was made, but it was hard-fought. As we get ever closer to a real set of buildings, with real dimensions, real systems and real costs, the more distant we become philosophically. This is one of the great challenges with "sustainability" as a goal: it is everything and nothing and everyone brings individual understanding to the table. Even with "carbon" as the operative goal of the project, carbon mitigation cannot be done at all costs. Economy, ecology and society must be balanced as much as possible in the solution.

Updates from the field:

Johanna attended the First Sustainable Infrastructure Financing Summit in Basel. Eco-cities were the hot topic at the gathering, and with good reason: with 70% of the global population projected to be living in cities by 2050, our cities will be the site of greatest potential for mitigating and adapting to climate change. Johanna was struck by one other statistic: over the next 40 years, there will be more urban development than the last 4000 years all together. One might wonder how will we will transition our cities to cope with this massive change!

Tuula Laitinen brings word that our questionnaire for future residents of Jätkäsaari is nearly ready for prime time. The 20 questions from the study will be folded into a larger study to be published this spring looking into the future of the city in Finland. 

And Marco has been thinking about Abe Lincoln:

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe. 

January 28th, 2011

Posted by: Justin W. Cook

Category: Weeknotes