How will cities promote wood construction in future?

The task of promoting wood construction is often relegated to municipal zoning, but cities have been surprisingly resourceful in finding alternative methods to increase wood use. In the spirit of learning together, ten cities of varying sizes shared their individual methods in the “Puu tulee kaupunkiin” (Wood comes to the city) project in 2021–2022.

Text: Markku Norvasuo, Tampere University

Read the article in Finnish here

Tampere Vuores. Photograph: Mika Huisman

Because municipal zoning has such significant sway, the zoning of new residential areas is still the primary method for increasing wood construction. Housing construction is also incredibly important for growing cities. However, land transfer conditions that require wood construction are now on the rise as they are deemed easy to customise and can include financial incentives.

Some cities set guidelines for wood construction or more general strategies that include or at least mention wood. The goals of the projects vary, as do their level of detail and practical applicability. The most professional scenarios had named responsible parties and tracked progress. Cities also used ancillary projects that included piloting or research and development, often combined with land transfer.

The interviewed participants pointed out that cities typically use these methods with an eye on the future and eventual new low-carbon regulations and calculation methods. Their thinking is that wood will fare well in such comparisons and become the chosen construction material organically. Maybe one day the other promotional tools will not even be needed?

At the same time, many cities have already set themselves the remarkably ambitious goal of being carbon neutral by as early as 2030 and see wood construction as a potential means to achieve these goals.

This is a bit of a contradiction, as the year 2030 (or 2035 in some cases) is just around the corner from a construction point of view. In municipal zoning, a decade is a short time, and the adoption of low-carbon calculations is still in its infancy. In other words, it is unlikely that the active promotion of wood construction will become unnecessary or obsolete any time soon.

Long term developments can, of course, veer in alternative directions such as hybrid construction that combines the virtues of different materials. However, it is too early to make sweeping statements about any technological breakthroughs. From this perspective, cities have been sensible in their actions. One should also remember that it will take some time before all the current promotion work bears fruit.

“Puu tulee kaupunkiin” was a project conducted in 2021–2022 at Tampere University with funding from the Ministry of the Environment’s Wood Construction Promotion Program and the ten participating cities. A guide was created as part of the project and is available for downloading on Puuinfo’s website at https://puuinfo.fi/rakennuttaning/tahtotilasta-hankkeeksi/

THE AUTHOR OF THE ARTICLE Markku Norvasuo, University researcher and docent in the architecture unit of the Faculty of Built Environment. Before 2017, I worked at the Community Planning Research and Training Center YTK (Technical University, later Aalto University), and before that at VTT in the area of ​​community planning and construction technology. I did my dissertation on the architecture of Alvar Aalto. The main points of interest to me are, firstly, the 20th century community planning’s effort to structure the city and then repeatedly end up with a small community as the city’s structural unit and communal ideal, secondly, the centers of such communities, which also include suburban shopping centers and other common spaces such as libraries, and thirdly, the importance of technology in architecture and community planning.