5 / 2013 - apartment buildings, city planning

The impact of town planning on the cost of housing has aroused debate in the Finnish media this year. The news reporting, which originally took the point of view of the construction companies, has created the impression that without the troublesome town planning, housing costs would go down considerably. In this issue experts, other than representatives of construction companies, appraise the situation. What effect does planning have on the price of the dwelling and the quality of the living environment?

The new blocks of flats featured in this issue show that the form of financing – be it ownership or rental housing – does not directly affect the quality of the architecture. A knowledgeable and skilled architect is still the key factor in producing quality.

Contents

The impact of town planning on the cost of housing has aroused debate in the building industry. How much should we be prepared to pay for the quality of our living environment? What should be changed? Six experts were invited to take part in the discussion. Here is Osmo Soininvaara's comment.


Who pays for the town planner’s whims?

I will only focus on the Helsinki region where housing market prices are significantly higher than building costs. This leads to a situation where building costs have nothing to do with housing market prices and therefore the architects’ impulse decisions do not seem to cost anything – unless of course the price is controlled like ARA housing or Helsinki’s Hitas apartments.

It is tempting to include various regulations in town plans to improve quality because they will not increase the market price. Hopefully they do, at least a little, because otherwise it would mean that the buyer would feel that the improvements are useless. A quality factor that is useless in terms of its value is detrimental to the construction company. Therefore the attitude is so carefree.

Does this mean that the various regulations that hinder the building process are free because the home buyer does not have to pay for them? Whenever money is being spent, it is not free. Initially the bill is paid by the builder, but if competition works in the land assignment process, the bill will then go to the landowner which in Helsinki is usually the city. The city would obtain a better price for the land through an invitation to tender if the town plan was not so expensive. If the plan regulations increase building costs unnecessarily by 500 euros per square meter of floor space, the price paid for the land will be reduced by 500 euros per square meter of floor space.

Ultimately, expensive plan regulations will partly end up being part of housing prices. Even though all new apartments sell like hot cakes, the amount of construction activity will not increase in the Helsinki region because the municipalities cannot afford a quicker growth rate. New residents need roads, schools, the metro, trams, day care facilities and everything else. If the city received more money for land or as a building land payment, it could afford a quicker housing production rate because the new residents would pay a larger part of the growth costs. Increasing housing would then reduce the price level of both new and old apartments.

Are the additional quality requirements included in town plans therefore a bad thing? Everything that is built should be built well. Quality should not be sacrificed even if it does cost a little more. What bothers me is the fact that many construction companies claim that they could produce the same level of quality at a lower cost. The quality regulations written in town plans are poor in terms of their quality/price ratio. A town planner is not a building designer, or at least that is what is said.

Would it not be possible to inform the builders of the quality level in the form of adjectives so that the construction company could then figure out how to achieve the required level at the lowest possible cost? The building permit stage would then include checking if the plan is sufficient. This is the process in many countries and it seems to be working.

However, this is not possible in Finland because a building permit has to be granted if the project complies with the town plan and there is reason to believe that the building will not collapse. Because the building permit stage does not include a cityscape consideration, those granting the permit do not have expertise in that area, but of course they could have.

The problem has also been tackled using the methods of collaborative town planning. For the time being, it is only suitable for large projects. However, a two-phase town planning process can be used on smaller projects. Quality requirements that are not cost-effective would still be included in the original plan, but the builder would then be asked to make their own design judgment without paying attention to the plan. If it is good enough, the plan will be changed.

Osmo Soininvaara is Member of Parliament as well as Member of Helsinki City Council and Vice-Chairman of City Planning Board.

Illustration Mikko Metsähonkala

 

The ensemble of three blocks of flats at the end of the Uutela Canal in the suburb of Vuosaari is reviewed by Anni Vartola. One of the buildings consists of rental flats and two of owner-occupied apartments.

Sateenkaari
ARK-house achitects

address Kauniinilmankuja 3, Helsinki
gross area 6 700 m2
completion 2013

Auringonkehä
Kirsi Korhonen and Mika Penttinen Architects

address Kauniinilmankuja 5–7, Helsinki
gross area 8 595 m2
completion 2012

Sumujensilta
Jukka Turtiainen Architects

address Kauniinilmankuja 9, Helsinki
gross area 4 800 m2
completion 2013

The buildings of the rental flat block are of different character and typology: a gallery access building, a point block and a terraced house. Review by Roy Mänttäri.

architects Selina Anttinen, Vesa Oiva, Sanna Meriläinen, Riku Rönkä
address
Agronominkatu 1, Helsinki
gross area 6 166 m2
completion 2012

Eija Hasu and Anne Tervo write about the home-like hotel for Aalto University’s foreign researchers.

architects Tuomo Siitonen, Virve Kaartoluoma
address
Otaranta 4, Espoo
gross area 4 638 m2
completion 2012

The clou of the flats in this price-regulated owner-occupied apartment building in the carless block of Kalasatama is, according to critic Tarja Nurmi, the well above the norm floor height.

architects Rainer Mahlamäki, Jukka Savolainen
address
Arielinkatu 10, Helsinki
gross area 5 615 m2
completion 2013

The editor-in-chief asked me to write about anything that amuses me.
I find myself writing about things that do not amuse me at all.

The values in the world of construction are becoming narrower.
However, our knowledge about the influence of architecture and our ability to analyse the experience is increasing all the time. While money is being saved, our environment becomes poorer.

Apartment block production forms a well-established institution, extending from zoning to the terms of financing, design, technology and implementation. Everyone criticises how expensive the product is.
There is only one thing that seems to be even more expensive:
deviating from the predictable outcome.

The architect is required to simplify his solutions.
At the same time, he is also required to use increasingly sophisticated machines and methods to create and model his plans.
A majority of the buildings and design data produced by modern machines would, however, be remarkably easier to control using two-dimensional imaging and brainpower.

Is there a risk that machines will do the same to spatial conception as they did to mental arithmetic during the era of pocket calculators? It is of even greater concern if architects are going to hand over the core of their expertise to machines and design programs: the complex problem-solving possibilities of the human mind that include imagination, experience and memories.

The legislation regarding public contracts is becoming a form of legalised protectionism.
A public contracting authority states that they will select the designer using the office’s head count, net sales and data modelling as the criteria.
The Matthew effect becomes stronger. In order for the procurement procedure to work in a way that enriches architecture, there should be an active selection of open design competitions alongside it so that newcomers would have a chance to show what they can do. (“For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” Matthew 25:29.)

The building process has been made quicker.
The time saved is wasted by sitting in meetings, preparing memos and complaining about busy schedules. The basic bureaucratic procedures, controls and reporting, eat away at the meagre work time and design budgets of even the most modest project.
Project models have developed to primarily cater to the needs of controlling, not to the needs of efficient and productive design work. The statistics of an engineer friend showed that the time spent in meetings is increasing thirtyfold. However, schedule penalties still only apply to everyone else except the one who prepares the schedule.

While the designer is required to prove their competence, the amount of control and regulation is increasing.
This is not how it was supposed to go, was it?

Professor Tuomo Siitonen is the Grand Old Man of Finnish housing design.

Näköislehti: Site Logic