Helsinki wants to further wood construction

Deputy Mayor Anni Sinnemäki wants Helsinki to be a vanguard in wood construction in Finland, both in special projects and construction of multi-storey buildings. Sinnemäki, who is in charge of construction, is pleased with the Supreme Administrative Court’s decision giving municipalities the right to zone areas for wood buildings. „I’m truly proud that the city followed through on the judicial process arising from the zoning complaint, and through that paved the way for municipalities to address wood construction in zoning regulations. The decision about Honkasuo now serves as an example for all municipalities to utilise wood construction when they wish,“ says Sinnemäki.

Sinnemäki reiterates that the city took part in some of the first multi-storey wood construction projects in the 1990s. „The newest area of multi-storey residential buildings has been a real success. The buildings are architecturally and aesthetically beautiful and fit well into the cityscape. The area has a good atmosphere, and new buildings blend in well with older construction,“ says Sinnemäki.

Over the years Helsinki has realised numerous multi-storey residential building projects lead by the Helsinki Housing Production Department (ATT), and has taken part in the construction of significant wood sites like the Finnish Nature Centre Haltia in Nuuksio, the Kamppi Chapel and the Helsinki Music Centre. New, important wood construction projects are now starting in the city, including the Helsinki Central Library, Wood City in Jätkäsaari, potentially the Guggenheim Museum as well as the area of wooden buildings in Honkasuo.

Although the construction of Jätkäsaari’s Wood City got off to a slow start, Sinnemäki says it is progressing on schedule and at a crisp pace. „Building in a showy location requires proof of expertise in Finnish wood construction. It must not give the impression that it is somehow slower or less reliable, but rather that wood construction is a norm and no different from other construction. Hopefully, the industry will benefit from experience gained through earlier construction projects in realising these challenging sites.“

Sinnemäki is pleased that development work in wood construction has led to solutions for building even in difficult conditions, for example realisation of production in the driest possible conditions, avoiding moisture damage. „Hopefully the Finnish timber industry knows how to benefit from experiences elsewhere, which will encourage the industry to continue forging ahead in development work.“

Use of wood in construction is also an image factor

Sinnemäki feels it is important for Helsinki to create areas with different styles and architecture, for example construction now underway at the Kalasatama and in Jätkäsaari. In the future, wood could play a strong role in low, densely built areas. „This is an opportunity for innovations and to raise the image of all construction. Wood is definitely central to Helsinki Housing Production Department projects, although a multi-storey building of rental flats is not necessarily a wood site. Wood should be used in both the homes for private ownership whose price and quality are regulated by the City of Helsinki’s Hitas system, as well as in construction of rental properties.

According to Sinnemäki, the Helsinki Housing Production Department has had the right approach to construction, as nothing has been ruled out in advance and different options have been investigated. „Anything can be made into an obstacle for construction. Successful projects are usually based on the desire to do something in a new way. For us, use of wood in construction is also a factor in image.“

Sinnemäki reiterates that in the future rental properties owned by the city will need extensive renovations, the economic impact of which is growing year after year. „The renovation challenge is a huge issue in terms of volume, and the need is focused on the Helsinki Metropolitan area.“

Sinnemäki hopes the industry will provide solutions and components for both repairs and construction of additional storeys. „When work has been done in the public sector on prerequisites for wood construction and facilitating it, we should expect more functional, competitive solutions from the industry, as well. Wood construction must be viewed as normal construction and not just as special projects,“ stresses Sinnemäki.

Life-cycle approach gains momentum in construction

According to Sinnemäki, the City of Helsinki has a long tradition of furthering energy-efficient construction. This can be seen among other things in stricter criteria implemented by the city regarding energy efficiency. „The life-cycle approach must be given more consideration in construction. I now expect new innovations in construction solutions in which long-term durability, material efficiency and recyclability are better taken into consideration and we can demonstrate that we truly utilise them. If the timber industry can find functional solutions, it will be a good way to further wood construction.“

Sinnemäki hopes that the current government will update construction regulations so they do not contain hidden obstacles that leave wood in a weaker position. „All materials must also be treated equally in competitive bidding for construction projects,“ Sinnemäki notes.

Article Service Markku Laukkanen