Modern wooden towns bring comfort to living – popularity of single-family homes and wood construction increasing in Finland

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Launched in 1997, the Modern wooden town scheme is a national umbrella project that has the aim of creating resident-oriented, comfortable and exemplary living environments in different parts of Finland.

 One of the project’s central aims is promoting the development of compact urban areas comprising low-rise apartment buildings and single-family homes through, for example, modernised town and city planning and housing production processes. In addition to wood construction, the main themes of the project are the enhanced use of timber construction system as well as promoting the use of wood in garden and landscape building and interior decoration.

The programme for government also makes a commitment to the promotion of wood construction and the present government has named the Modern wooden town scheme a spearhead project for the living cluster in its forthcoming Centre of Expertise Programme for 2007–13.

The one hundred or so pilot projects of the Ministry of the Environment’s Compact and low-rise development scheme have also supported the construction of low-rise housing areas. Under this scheme, new alternatives are being sought to fit between the spacious single-family home area and multi-storey housing estate models. The aim is to utilise land as efficiently as in spacious multi-storey building developments.

30-50 single-family homes at a time

Building a modern single-family home is a demanding project and not many Finns today have the skills, time and resources necessary to build their own house. One alternative to traditional building options that has been tested under the Modern wooden town scheme is a project-type concept in which 30-50 single-family houses are built at a time.

In addition to creating an area to interest construction firms, this helps keep the price of single-family houses on a reasonable level and makes the supervision of building easier to manage. Moreover, these kinds of areas are more uniform in appearance and their immediate environs more finished than is the case with typical suburban single-family house developments.

The Modern wooden town project offers cities and municipalities a solution in which the chain of activities typical of construction – starting with design contests and running through town and city planning, choosing a builder, allocation of a building site, requesting tenders from designers, drafting the plans, evaluation of building-contract tenders and the actual construction to the selling or leasing of homes – is replaced by a project-based operating model.    

Planning practices and housing production in need of development

Homes should first and foremost be built for residents. This calls for more consideration for the needs of residents than is now the case, as solutions that affect the cityscape and the urban milieu are primarily created on the planning desk. One aim of the Modern wooden town scheme has been to influence city planners, decision-makers, developers and financers already at an early stage.

As building sites are becoming ever smaller, attention should be paid to privacy, sheltering and the standard of the immediate environs of yards and common areas. Area development schemes can, when successful, bring a sense of community to an area, but, on the other hand, houses need to be reasonably individual because monotonous design should also be avoided. Many realised projects are areas comprising group houses – a building type that combines characteristics of terraced and single-family houses. Architectural design contests have demonstrated that designing a compact, low-rise residential area is quite difficult, however.

Wood is a popular material in single-family homes

Eight out of ten Finns would prefer to live in a single-family home or a small-scale residential milieu. The State authorities as well as many municipalities have responded to the growing demand for single-family homes and building sites. The proportion of single-family homes in residential newbuilding has risen to above 60 per cent over the last three years. Despite this trend, over 44 per cent of Finnish homes are apartments in multi-storey buildings, making Finland the most apartment-intensive country in Western Europe after Spain.

A rise in the building of single-family homes also translates into an increase in wood use. Some 85 per cent of Finnish single-family homes have wooden frames – this says a lot about the popularity of wood. Timber is a competitive building material and residents appreciate it. Wood is also a serious alternative in the building of multi-storey buildings as it can be used to build houses up to four stories high.

The share of single-family homes with wooden facades has been increasing along with the popularity of prefabricated houses, although the proportion of stone single-family homes has been growing, especially in the greater Helsinki area. About one in ten builders of a single-family home wants a log house and this has caused pressure to develop urban log house models as well.

 

Wood is an ecological building material

Wood is a renewable natural resource and Finland will not run out of it. In less than a day, enough wood grows in Finnish forests to equip all of the 30,000 or so new homes –an average floor area of 77 m2 – completed in our country each year with timber frames as well as with wood-based interior and exterior cladding.

Wood is also an ecological building material. One cubic metre of growing wood binds on average one tonne of carbon dioxide. Wooden buildings serve their users for an average of 80-100 years and act as carbon sinks during that period. In addition to this, wood materials are energy-friendly because the manufacture of a wood-based construction component generates less carbon dioxide emissions than competing products. At the end of their lifecycle, wood products can be recycled and burnt to generate energy.

 

Modern wood town project is a flagship for wood construction

Over the past decade, the Modern wooden town project has received support from the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation, Wood Focus Oy, the Finnish Forest Industries Federation as well as various ministries. After the wooden multi-storey apartment building projects of the initial stage, the main emphasis of the scheme has shifted towards urban residential developments comprising low-rise buildings and single-family homes. Over 30 area building developments in various parts of Finland are currently associated with the scheme.      

The wooden milieus that have already been built have received very positive feedback from residents. The pilot project of the Modern wooden town scheme, Puu-Linnanmaa in Oulu received the Wood Award in 2003. The Friisilä area of Espoo received the same accolade in 2004, in addition to which the Länsiranta development in Porvoo received the Environment Award in 2003. The scheme include both wooden single-family home developments in rural districts and urban areas   comprising wooden multi-storey apartment building.

The wooden milieus realised as part of the scheme have been presented in the publication "Kotina puinen kaupunkikylä – Esimerkkejä Moderneista puukaupungeista". The book is distributed by Puuinfo Oy and published by Rakennustieto Oy. It was edited by architects Markku Karjalainen and Riku Patokoski, both of whom participated in the Modern wooden town scheme.

The book is a follow-up to the "Moderni puukaupunki – puu ja arkkitehtuuri" publication, which was written at the Wood Studio of the University of Oulu’s Department of Architecture in 2002.

Further information:

Markku Karjalainen, Ph.D., Project Manager, University of Oulu, tel. +358 (0)8 553 4961 / +358 (0)40 5832 127,
Markku.A.Karjalainen@oulu.fi

Mikko Viljakainen, Director of the Business Sectors and Competitiveness group, Finnish Forest Industries Federation,
tel. +358 (0)9 132 6625, firstname.lastname@forestindustries.fi