5 / 2015 - Ring Rail Line, urban infill

Currently topical phenomena in Finnish urban planning are infill development and the growing importance of rail traffic. Infill development densifies piece by piece the fragmented urban structure that is a product of the construction of the suburbs in the 60s and 70s.

The new Ring Rail Line will stimulate the construction of local centres in Vantaa. "The Ring Rail Line marks the beginning a new stage in the development of Vantaa’s urban structure", suggests Tarja Laine, Director of Urban Planning, in her article. This edition presents three local centres in Vantaa. The Kivistö centre is presently under construction; Aviapolis, adjacent to the airport, is still searching its form; and Tikkurila is being densified to become an increasingly more urban centre. In Espoo the expansion of the metro line will attract development within the proximity of the future stations. The Tapiola centre is rapidly densifying, and the magazine features an infill project the size of an urban block. Projects for the renewal of the Tampere station area and the Pohjola Building block in Helsinki describe well the different methods and magnitudes of infill development. An individual architect's self-initiated project in Kallio in Helsinki highlights the latent possibilities of a densely built city district and enhances its distinct character.

Urban planning has at different times created models for the Ideal City or urban utopias. Architect Marco Casagrande has created an outline for the post-industrial city. "Paracity is a human mangrove or compost where the various organic levels overlap and mix to create ‘agritecture’. Paracity is basically a high-tech slum." Researcher Mikko Mäki asserts that Finnish mainstream culture is in the creation of urban space committed to asceticism. He defends the enjoyment of urban space. In addition, this edition discusses the potential of critical architecture and healthy construction methods.


According to Tarja Laine, Director of Urban Planning in Vantaa, the Ring Rail Line draws together the city bisected by the airport area.

The Ring Rail Line (in Finnish Kehärata), is more than the sum of its parts. The railway line, taken into use last summer, draws together Vantaa, a city of 210,000 residents and bisected by the airport area, and creates opportunities for 100,000 new residents and jobs. It allows easy connections to the airport from everywhere in Finland and complements the capital region’s transversal rail connections.

The Ring Rail Line marks the beginning of a new stage in the development of Vantaa’s urban structure. In the 1950s Vantaa, a rural municipality with a population of 15,000, was an interesting target for regional development. In 1961 the Helsinki Regional Planning Authority drew up on the basis of the existing railway network a grouping diagram through which new building areas were sought. This marked the beginning of master planning in Vantaa. The Martinlaakso railway line came about on the basis of the Haaga–Vantaa plan, and in 1968 the Marjarata line first appeared on the planners’ table as a continuation of it. The railway line later developed into the Ring Rail Line, linking together east and west, and its present location was finalised in the 1992 master plan.

The planning of the line itself began in the early 2000s. In the first planning meetings choices were made regarding new development areas. Issues that caused problems included crossing extensive clay soil fields, building a long tunnel – almost half of the 18 km-long line runs underground – as well as a few flying squirrels. Air traffic noise limited the areas suitable for housing. An environmental impact assessment was carried out and a detailed plan drawn up for the track. After this began the development planning of the new areas.

The Ring Rail Line opens new opportunities. Along it are eleven stations, five of which are already in use: Vehkala, Kivistö, Aviapolis, the Airport and Leinelä. The Vehkala station is situated next to a large employment hub, and new residential areas will be built in the vicinity of three of the stations: for 30,000 residents in both Kivistö and Aviapolis, and for around 5,000 in Leinelä.

The planning of Kivistö began as the so-called Marja-Vantaa project and the results of an ideas competition were announced in 2008. The Kivistö commercial centre will serve the entire northern part of the capital region. Aviapolis, in the vicinity of the airport, is changing from a logistics and industrial area to an urban environment that will include housing, workplaces and services. Property developers are being challenged to take an international approach and also to demonstrate this in their building projects. The airport is becoming better connected to the entire capital region, but also in an exceptional way to the urban-like environment of Aviapolis. The planning of Leinelä began in the early 2000s, and in 2006 an architectural competition for young architects, Europan, was organised for the area. In addition to the station areas, building has become busier throughout Vantaa, particularly in the districts of Tikkurila and Myyrmäki.

The Ring Rail Line will enable a lifestyle in Vantaa that relies on the use of public transport. The centres of the new districts can be compactly built and the number of car-parking places can be kept reasonable. It is increasingly easy to move around by bicycle or walking. The workplaces and residents of the urban centres create new opportunities for business and services. Due to the long tradition of master planning and a strategy based on strong local centres, one can talk about Vantaa as the public transport city of the future. ark

Architect Tarja Laine is Director of Urban Planning in Vantaa.


The winner of the second Finlandia Prize for Architecture was chosen in September by composer Kaija Saariaho. The prize has evoked a delightful media buzz and thus fulfils the intention the Association of Finnish Architects SAFA had when founding the prize: to bring attention to high quality contemporary Finnish architecture.

The jury appointed by SAFA preselected a shortlist of five buildings from which Saariaho then chose the winner. In her process of selecting the winner, the Paris-based composer put an emphasis on the motivations underlying each project as well as on the intended uses of the buildings, their location in the milieu and their users. In her opinion all five finalists were intriguing buildings with carefully thought-out features. “All five are also beautiful and stylish. My choice of the winner was ultimately based on the overall impression and experience – I selected the building that appeals to me intuitively and is consistent with my own pursuits and values.”

Of all the finalists, Saariaho was most impressed by Puukuokka, a timber-framed high-rise building in Jyväskylä by OOPEAA Office for Peripheral Architecture. In Saariaho’s opinion it is a human-scale complex aiming for a new type of ecological construction. The composer was especially pleased with the building’s acoustics: “Thanks to the extensive use of wood, the acoustics were pleasant and cosy even in the large staircase. The views of one of the residents I visited regarding the superiority of a wood-clad dwelling – especially in terms of acoustics and comfort – convinced me. I could sense the welcoming atmosphere when entering the home.”

The Puukuokka project combines elements that Saariaho values both in architecture and life: “It is a bold and ambitious piece of work that seeks to explore something new. It is human-centred, develops ecological concepts and improves one’s quality of life. I feel that I can subscribe to the aesthetic and ethical choices made by the architects. Moreover, Puukuokka is the building that I enjoyed most with all my senses.”

The prize-winning building was designed by architect Anssi Lassila. What does winning the prize mean to him? “To me it means stepping into professional adulthood. Also, obviously it feels good to get credit for the work done.” The 42-year-old architect founded his own practice 15 years ago and has had the opportunity to work on many different kinds of projects. “The fact that the prize was awarded for an apartment building design makes it special, I think. A lot of reasonably good quality housing architecture is executed in Finland but rarely does it break through as something of interest, nationally or internationally.”ark

Present-day Finnish building practices are unsustainable. ­The author demands for a change. A high-rise apartment building has to be durable, healthy, envi­ron­men­­tally friendly and easy to maintain.

Finnish contemporary building construction is based on complex structural layers and the use of non-permeable synthetic materials. As such, it is a threat to the environment, as well as to the health and investment of the residents. Since the 1960s, buildings have not been designed to last even a single generation. The objective behind the complex structural solutions is high short-term performance and low one-off costs. Consequently, buildings in Finland are sensitive to failure, incapable of recovery from damage, and prone to mould. They also contain harmful substances that accumulate in the environment when a structure is demolished. Health hazards caused by contemporary construction directly affect hundreds of thousands of Finns. Losses affecting our national assets that are tied to buildings are counted in hundreds of billions of euros.

The efficiency fallacy

How is it that we have ended up in such an unsustainable situation, enabled by legislation and in the name of so-called sustainable development? Because in the building industry sustainable development has been reduced to material and energy efficiency and environmental effects to carbon footprints. Consequently, we are constructing better sealed and insulated wall structures and shifting to mechanical intake-extract ventilation supplied with heat recovery, new “less energy-consuming” equipment and data systems to control them. What we do not consider is what all these are manufactured from, what they require in order to remain operational, whether they will still function tomorrow or indeed whether they are necessary in the first place. The key role is taken by efficiency – it becomes not a matter of what is used and what it is used for, but rather of how efficiently.

Efficiency, however, does not change direction – only speed. Recycling noxious waste more efficiently is of no use because no man-made closed cycle is ever truly closed. Plastic ends up either as greenhouse gases through incineration or in the oceans and hence onto our dinner plates. Densifying cities with buildings of the present kind leads only to a densified problem; cities consisting of disposable buildings are dependent upon endless growth and the rise in land values to pay for the costs of continuous demolition and rebuilding.

Carbon footprints of products, in turn, may vary radically, whereas the physical properties of materials remain unchanged. A lower carbon alternative is not necessarily less dangerous for the environment. Calculating the carbon footprint of a product is useful only when the basics of material flows and maintainability are in order. Hence, when architects find themselves comparing from dropdown lists a piece of plastic and a piece of wood as equivalent materials, it is a sign that several more important questions have not been asked along the way.

The architect is the chief designer. He or she should be in control of the totality. Nobody does it for him or her. However, if the architect examines and compares only numerical values given to individual materials or products, the totality becomes blurred. Small and large concepts get bunched together: energy efficiency and ecology, carbon footprint and environmental effects, compliance with regulations and fairness. Commensurability only works on paper. A small carbon footprint cannot compensate for respiratory diseases. The profits of a construction company cannot compensate for the fact that the value of the apartment owners’ property is lost. Environmental protection through present means destroys the environment.

A new direction

It is increasingly clear that we cannot solve problems separate from one another. The problem of energy consumption is not solved without dealing with disposability, and disposability is not solved without dealing with the fallacy of perpetual growth. It is hard to challenge perpetual growth unless one accepts the basic facts: the finiteness of the world and the cycle of matter. Climate change, economic crisis and mould problems are interlinked. And at present, architecture too is unfortunately a transmitting medium for them…

…the transmitting medium that specifically architects can influence. When it is admitted that perpetual growth is impossible, unsustainable and impractical, it has a significant influence on the whole future of the built environment. The life-cycle thinking and disposable building that has prevailed since the 1960s can no longer be justified. Maintainability becomes the most important criterion. The values of the building stock of the future must be the same as those of the very oldest buildings that preceded the life-cycle thinking. Construction must again be technically simple and maintainable, and must utilise natural and infinitely abundant material flows. The oldest building stock is a living example of the operational reliability of these values.

My diploma thesis “The multi-storey house of the future” is a reaction to the problems of contemporary building, a proposal for how to solve them, and a contribution aimed at opening a new debate. The multi-storey house of the future is based on materials and solutions that have been proven to be durable, healthy and environmentally friendly. The construction does not include any plastic, bitumen, boron, glue or other substances that are detrimental when they end up in the environment. The building is designed to be easily maintained and repaired. Its construction is simple, comprehensible and tolerant to defects. The multi-storey house of the future has 35 cm thick industrially produced solid wood walls that function like traditional log walls. This moisture regulating and carbon dioxide permeable load-bearing structure acts as both thermal insulation and thermal storage. Additionally, the house has unfiltered natural ventilation. The multi-storey house of the future does not comply with present building regulations. Instead it shows the direction for new ones. ark

Carpenter and architect Lars-Erik Mattila is interested in healthy ways of building regardless their age.


Open form enables the biourban city. An industrial city seemingly independent of its natural environment is replaced by a living organism.

Paracity is a modular urban structure system based on the use of a glue-laminated solid wood grid, a sort of primary framework, within which people can build their homes, create communities and establish cultivations. Organic by nature, Paracity is capable of growing unaided on urban wastelands such as floodlands or slums. This autonomous biourban growth is made possible by modular environmental technology, which provides the necessary ’internal organs’ for the communities created in the process. Paracity is designed to receive, process and convert the waste generated by urban centres into a resource. It serves as an acupuncture needle in the side of a polluting city.

Open form

As it grows, Paracity obeys the laws of Open Form introduced by Oskar Hansen at CIAM in 1959 and developed further by Svein Hatløy in the 2000s. The methodology is based on the idea of communities growing spontaneously through reciprocally stimulating design concepts. Actually, Open Form is very close to the Taiwanese pre-urban tradition of creating self-organising and often unofficial communities. These micro-urban communities are hot-spots of local knowledge, which also serves as fuel of growth for Paracity. Paracity is a compost of local knowledge generating the energy that gives birth to biourban communities.

Paracity supplies a growth medium for the development of the community framework to which people add their own human elements. Design does not seek to replace reality. Flesh is More. The primary structure consists of a grid of six or three-meter long glue-laminated beams with CLT panels serving as bracing. The beams are inter-connected using wood joints making it possible for people to extend the primary framework as they wish. CLT possesses excellent earthquake and fire-resistance properties.

Originally, Paracity was designed for areas prone to floods and tsunamis. The entire urban structure rests on CLT posts allowing the water level to rise freely up to the ground floor which is left empty. In the dry season, the ground floor serves as a common living area providing facilities for the exercise of tai-chi, meditation, karaoke, boat repairs, night-markets and other spontaneous expressions of urban energy.


Paracity’s biourbanism grows to be assimilated into nature – the structure is auto-ruining. Paracity is a human mangrove or compost where the various organic levels overlap and mix to create ‘agritecture’ with nature serving as the co-architect.

Paracity feeds on the flows of materials generated by the surrounding city. Even a polluted river serves as a source of energy for this biourban internal organ. Paracity lives and breathes side by side with the surrounding city in a symbiosis like slums: the urban nomads purge the city from the slag produced by it. Paracity represents just an enhancement of the process through the use of modular environmental technology. Paracity is basically a high-tech slum.

In the Paracity pilot project, which we have proposed in Taipei, household and irrigation water is drawn from the polluted local river and purified. Pre-purified water is pumped to the roof terraces where it is oxidised and root-purified by plants selected for this purpose. From the green areas on the roofs, the water flows down to the community gardens and urban cultivations. Paracity’s main source of energy is the fast-growing biomass that thrives on the fertile flood banks along the river.

Once it has properly struck root and achieved its critical mass, Paracity will reach over Taipei’s 12-metre high flood wall currently separating the industrially produced urban housing from the river and its environs. The flood wall will remain as an industrial relic within Paracity while the new organic urban structure permits peaceful co-existence between the industrial city and the river. Paracity will serve as a mediator between the industrialised human environment and nature.
The fragments of Paracity scattered around Taipei form a network of urban acupuncture that steers industrial development towards an organic machine. By ruining the industrialised city, it seeks to reclaim it to become part of nature and a ‘third-generation city’.

Third-generation city

The first-generation city is a built-up human community living in immediate interaction with and depending on the natural environment. Taipei’s fertile floodlands have offered favourable conditions for compact housing and the river has provided food and a means of transportation while the mountains flanking the plains have protected the city from the full force of typhoons.

The second-generation city is an industrial city, seemingly independent from the natural environment surrounding it. In fact, nature seems to be harmful to this mechanical machine, as if the floods, for example, intend to destroy it. To prevent this, Taipei has built the flood wall.

The third-generation city represents the organic ruins of the industrialised city. The existing symbioses between Taipei’s collective gardens, urban cultivations and illegal settlements and the surrounding city are fragments of the third-generation city. These areas serve as the city’s acupuncture points piercing through its industrial skin to reach local knowledge. Drawing upon and committed to this resource, the third-generation city grows to become part of nature.

Urban acupuncture is a theory of ecological urban planning that seeks to combine urban planning with the ideas of traditional Chinese medicine. Fundamentally, it perceives cities as multi-tiered living organisms and tries to identify areas and districts ripe for an upgrade and reconditioning. Projects relying on the local traditions and based on the principles of sustainable development serve as acupuncture needles that stimulate the entire organism by curing parts of it.

A ruin is the catharsis of architecture where something man-made reverts to nature. A ruin is the subconscious goal of the industrialised city and the trauma of modern man. Taipei offers an advanced model for the symbiosis where the mechanised city co-exists with unofficial residential areas, collective gardens, city cultivations and urban nomads. With zoning only half-finished, the final touches to the city are put by its residents.

Paracity is the seed of a third-generation city. A modular biourban organism grows in response to human needs while at the same time ruining the surrounding industrial city. Seeds of Paracity are germinating within Taipei in the collective gardens, illegal settlements, abandoned burial grounds and other undeveloped sites. These seeds will contribute to the biological rehabilitation of the surrounding city through urban acupuncture. From these points, Paracity will spread out along the covered river and irrigation channels. Ultimately, the biourban organism and the static city will reach a biologically sustainable equilibrium that will give birth to the third-generation city. ark

Architect and urban designer Marco Casagrande teaches and researches the theory of the third-generation city and urban acupuncture.


Näköislehti: Site Logic