Intro available in:
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The Low2No project is designed to help transition our cities to a low carbon future. We aim to balance economy, ecology and society through strategic investments and interventions in the built environment.

Low2No ohjaa kaupunkeja asteittain kohti vähähiilistä tulevaisuutta. Strategisilla hankkeilla ja investoinneilla on tarkoitus etsiä tasapainoa rakennetun ympäristön taloudelliseen, ekologiseen ja sosiaaliseen kestävyyteen. 

Tämä sivusto on pääsääntöisesti englanniksi, mutta osa on käännetty suomeksi.

The content of this site is mostly in English with parts translated in Finnish.

Suomeksi

A New Phase for Low2No

September 1, 2009, almost exactly 3 years ago, Sitra announced the winners of our Low2No competition. It was a very exciting moment with a successful competition process behind us, and the promise of a brave new world ahead—little did we know of the joy and tribulations that this initiative would bring us. It has been a very positive learning experience to work with the on-the-ground challenges of shifting development patterns towards a low carbon future.  Building our understanding and ability from an integrated approach to the challenge, we sought to implement a transitional, low carbon urban development model.

Our role was unique: an enabler of market transformation. Low carbon/sustainable development has not (and will not) emerge by itself. Our lever in low2no was our direct investment in the building complex  in the form of Sitra's new, more collaborative office space, We supported this work with our unique role in Finland as an "influencer" who was able to work between the various stakeholders. This impact investment role (aligning our endowment capital investments with our strategy) enabled us to shift the conversation about value to another place and help de-risk the notion that sustainable development was a poor investment.

As some of you now already know, in early May Sitra's Board asked us to explore options to divest from the Low2No (Airut) office building. During its May 28th meeting, the Board officially made the decision to divest of the project, and this news was made public in Finland on Friday June 8th, 2012. The official Sitra press release can be found here. Clearly, the Board's request caught us by surprise and we have since been busy adjusting to a new reality. I must note that it has been surprising to see that our change in position has not generated more of a public conversation in Finland. We are not sure what to make of that…

Lot's of great grass-root activism in Helsinki, but how to scale it up?
Lot's of great grass-root activism in Helsinki, but how to scale it up?

Since the June announcement, we have been negotiating with SRV, VVO (our development partners) and the city to transfer the development rights to our partners and are negotiating our potential role in the venture going forward. We are also exploring our options in pursuing Low2No through complementary national applications that would explore how to create the conditions for the market and municipalities to transition cities burdened by structural challenges towards carbon neutrality and other related questions). Between cleaning house on our investor/owner role in the Airut block in Jätkäsaari, and our next steps there is some positive news too: we are happy that our Low2no food theme has found robust roots in the “Open Kitchen” initiative aimed atdeveloping food entrepreneurship in Finland. Read more about the great work Bryan, Dan, and Kalle (and the rest of the team) are doing on this front here

Onwards.

 

September 5th, 2012

Posted by: Marco Steinberg

Category: Project Updates

Low2No smart services workbook

Unlike most projects with a building at the centre, many of Low2No's outcomes are intended to be systemic, concerning wider urban systems, and sometimes positioned at the edges of, or even outside of, the building industry. For example, the use of timber in the building is partly a sustainable building materials choice but also presents a new trajectory for the Finnish forestry industry, an adjacent if not external industrial sector. See also our work in "everyday food", and associated systems and cultures. 

This is something that a traditional building-led project tends not to do; why engage in strategic benefit for an ancillary industry? We think it's important that buildings are no longer considered to be "one-offs", and to strategically "smuggle" as many systemic benefits as possible into such a project. In this way, a few hundred metres of Jätkäsaari delivers value well beyond the red line surrounding the project's site, and might enable sustainable outcomes well beyond those how experience Airut (the physical block itself). Given the investment and effort required in making buildings happen, this only seems reasonable (more on this general approach here.)

As well as timber and food, there is what the project has been calling "smart services". Also known as urban informatics, this aspect explores the potential of contemporary technologies - particularly those increasingly everyday circling around phrases like social media, "internet of things", "smart cities" and so on - to enable residents, workers, visitors and citizens in general to live, work and play in and around the block in new ways. These are predicated on the same low-carbon outcomes that drives the Low2No project in general, but also a wider "triple-bottom line" approach to sustainability, which might include beneficial social and economic outcomes, as well as environmental. We'd had this element in from the start, from the Arup-led consortium's original competition submission in 2009, and today we're sharing some of the work-in-progress as it developed, in the form of the "informatics workbook" developed by the design team, as a tool in the design process.

Informatics Workbook v2, with v1 underneath.
Informatics Workbook v2, with v1 underneath.

This world of personal sensors like Nike Fuelband, smart devices like the Nest, and social media like Facebook and Foursquare might indeed be "increasingly everday technologies", but they tend to remain almost entirely alien to the building industry, most architectural practice and wider world of urban systems (especially urban governance and operations.) 

Similarly, many contemporary approaches to sustainability hold back from addressing behaviour change. One can understand, at a basic level why this is — who wants their behaviour changed, after all? And certainly city governments would find this difficult territory politically, just as architects and engineers don't have the skills, or property developers think it's not really their job. Yet we know that a huge proportion of the carbon footprint for settlements and communities is not in the building project at all — at least as they are usually conceived — but in the behavioural choices that citizens make once they occupy the space. Equally, we would argue that all of the above do actually create behavioural change, just not necessarily consciously.

Hence our desire to use the building project as a "Trojan Horse" to warrant a reason to look at this potentially powerful combination of smart technologies and services — with an emphasis on the latter — and in enabling positive behaviour change amongst the various groups who will use the block.

Arup and Experientia worked on this aspect of the project, together with partners Sauerbruch Hutton and clients Sitra, SRV, and VVO. Over a couple of years of engagement, with Experientia leading and driving, and Arup (mainly my team in Sydney at the time, and principally Jason McDermott) working on the informatics aspects in particular, the project's design team produced some rich thinking about how to embed the potential of this area at the core of the project. One of the key challenges in this area is that there is rarely anyone on the wider design team or the client body who understands this area — hopefully this will change, and we present this work as a possible instrument to aid that cultural change. This was known as the "Informatics Workbook" amongst the project team.

Low2No Informatics Workbook print-on-demand version
You can order a physical copy, and Lulu will send it to you

Low2No Informatics Workbook PDF version
Download it

This work often involves positioning these otherwise technology-led areas in a more human-centred, and behaviour-oriented, framework — getting well beyond the hype about "smart cities" — whilst also trying to connect it to business drivers (the lack of the latter has hampered pretty much any serious progress in smart cities.)


A particular approach has been a focus on active rather than passive citizens. Too often such technologies can suggest an automation of processes without thinking through the behavoiural implications. In a nutshell, why design or install energy-consuming machines to turn off task lamps on desks, when human beings are quite capable of this? Moreover, if machines turn off the lights, humans — being the lazy homo sapiens that we are — may well just mentally "outsource" that entire process without thinking twice. And it's partly the lack of "thinking twice" that has got us into this mess, arguably. We'd rather people took responsibility for things they can, and so connect their behaviour to the performance of the wider systems they exist within — and so begin to understand the relationships between individuals, communities, environments and systems in more detail — whilst leaving machines to do the things that are a good use of their time too. We knew we had to go beyond simplistic "smart meters", which began to feel like a waste of time, effort and policy-making, largely, in terms of their ongoing effect.

Some of this insight was drawn from other Arup projects at the time, working with behavioural psychologists/marketeers like Naked Communications, as well as Experientia's deep research efforts on the ground in Helsinki and elsewhere, led by Jan-Christoph Zoels, Irene Cassarino, Camilla Masala and others. It is tacitly an attempt to bring user-centred design practice into the way we make buildings. 

As a result, the book starts with a series of scenarios, illustrating potential behavioural patterns, as a way of surfacing potential products and services.

Scenario
Scenario

These are, as is the way of such things, exploratory, ambitious, over-baked and perhaps impossibly utopian. But they are part of the process, no more; certainly, not a prediction or guideline. They are there to help open up a new conversation. And although persona-scenario work is as old as the hills, in terms of interaction design, it is rarely used in building projects (sometimes with good reason, as the users of the building in 40 years time may not exist yet; but generally for bad reasons.) So the persona-scenario work is useful with clients as a medium for the conversation.

Scenario
Scenario

The diagrams of flows, overlaid on the (now-outdated) block, developed by Jason and me, are perhaps just as interesting.

Combined scenario flows overlaid onto block diagram.
Combined scenario flows overlaid onto block diagram.

This culminates in the interaction map, akin to a subway map, which enabled us to pin dense pockets of interactions onto the architecture.

Interaction map
Interaction map

Note also the attempt to make the value clear to the client group of Sitra, SRV, VVO and City of Helsinki, on their own terms. This doesn't happen often enough in design work. I'm not entirely sure we got it right here, either, but it's an attempt.

The prospective products and services that emerged from this narrative-led process were then selected and filtered for further development, resulting in a suite of products and services for the block. We spent some time on how they might be woven together, and Experientia's work developed some of the software-led feedback loops in particular. There are mock-ups of some of those services in action, which we hope to post here too shortly. We also looked at the (software) architectural elements, such as how these various "small pieces loosely joined" might form a coherent whole, sharing data via civic APIs (including external services such as public transit data), separating data from content from presentation across various platforms, and so on. There are hints of that work here, but Arup's team, led by Léan Doody, produced detailed technical, strategic and operational reports that supported this vision.

This is a fuller set of ideas. There were even more generated during the design process as, of course, ideas are the easy bit! This was ultimately whittled down to a smaller set for consideration by the client group, alongside Experientia's work at the service, business and community level. We present them all in the informatics workbook for you to adopt and adapt.

AR-enabled maintenance tool, for managing block services.
AR-enabled maintenance tool, for managing block services.


As the technologies change so rapidly (this already feels distinctly like a document from 2010!), we decided to render them abstract, and focus on the architecture (which will hang around a while and not change so much), the people, and the service layer itself. There are notes in there about business models, but we've left out much of the discussion there, as some of it remains confidential as regards our partners, and is perhaps less transferable to other contexts.

In-lobby smart home delivery pigeonhole interface
In-lobby smart home delivery pigeonhole interface


Nonetheless, this is an attempt to describe how Low2No might produce a "genuinely 21st century building", beyond simple advances in form or material and into new areas for building, architecture, placemaking and the practice of city making. You should be able to perceive that philosophy underpinning some of the work featured in this "workbook".

It also illustrates design cues for the product sketches, which are otherwise deliberately sketchy, to create a connection with the architectural design process, and make clear the value in synthesising the development work in digital interactions (interaction and service design) with that of physical interactions (typically, architecture and industrial design). This palette section works as a form of "interaction mood board", then. Equally, we wanted any informatics services to feel, physically and digitally, part of a holistic design process. So the 'social noticeboard' idea is presented as a curved series of coloured rectangles, drawing a few hints from Sauerbruch Hutton's fabulous back catalogue. Hints, no more, but this again starts a conversation. It's also pragmatic; too often screens are added to buildings after the design process, with the result that they look awkward and don't get used (research from Oulu indicates that citizens already tend to "blank out" urban screens.)


We wanted to ensure that services might be developed with care, and in unison with the detailed architectural design. Even the earliest of sketches, such as those presented here, can help or hinder that process.

Palette pages.
Palette pages.

The photo essays, based on my fleeting observations of Helsinki when working on Helsinki Design Lab studios, are also intended to be a little impressionistic, focusing on giving a different sense of possibility in terms of citizens' interactions and street life in a changing Helsinki, beyond the outdated stereotypes of taciturn, withdrawn Finns or frozen seascapes. Yet Helsinki does have a distinct feel; it's not as if this small series of photos can capture that, but this section's existence does at least try to ask questions. They were often presented as pairs, or counterpoints, to suggest this.

Photo pairs
Photo pairs

The text tops and tails this with some context about informatics and smart cities in general, pointing out the potential in this area, particularly for public bodies and city governments. It ends with a note about the potential of the "ongoing post-occupancy evaluation" for generating strategic insight, moving beyond building to city, and to network of cities.

For what would traditionally be a consultants' report, we also took a different approach and tested the Lulu print-on-demand service, designing the document specifically for that platform. The book is intended to be easily browsed, easily carried, in handbag or briefcase, and used physically token in client and design meetings. Compared to the usual reports delivered in PDF or worse (Microsoft Word) I can tell you this made a difference. Print-on-demand means only the minimum need be printed, and printing can be potentially local to the recipient (bonus carbon points, there, perhaps.) 

In some senses, it's a little out of date, as the book was delivered in late 2010. It marks the project at that point, but remains relevant, as there are few publicly available examples of what informatics/internet of things/smart cities work actually looks like in the trenches, from within a building project. This "Informatics Workbook" was then merged with Experientia's excellent work on wider service design aspects around the project, presenting it amidst their genuinely groundbreaking work on behaviour change and lifestyles for Low2No. That is the context it should be seen in, rather than any idea of technology-led work. We'll try to present that here too.

Since this book, the project has continued to develop the ideas, in particular at a workshop last December in Jätkäsaari, featuring representatives from Arup, Experientia, Granlund, Sitra, SRV and VVO. There, and subsequently, a focus on enabling smart block management emerged, including ideas around 21st century "talonmies" (which is shorthad for janitors, essentially, but also here suggesting housing committees, and other aspects of block management.) SRV in particular may take this work forward, dovetailing it with their existing building systems and businesses.

Note: these print-on-demand books are designed to be updated. This is actually version 2, as you will note. So it is explicitly "work in progress", and that should serve as a caveat. (This was the first time we'd tried this approach, which we took further with the Helsinki Street Eats book: here, and discussed here.)

Low2No Informatics Workbook print-on-demand version
You can order a physical copy here, and Lulu will send it to you

Low2No Informatics Workbook PDF version
Download it

June 28th, 2012

Posted by: Dan Hill

Category: Project Updates

Announcing Helsinki Street Eats

Amongst the many facets, one aspect of Low2No is what and how we eat. Today we're publishing a 98 page book on street food of Helsinki that explores this topic.



Especially for a place with the northern climate and high meat & dairy consumption habits of Finland, food production and consumption are key concerns when you're interested in carbon.

We've been looking at street eats as an example of "everyday food", the stuff that's close at hand such as late night snacks, kiosks, bakeries, food trucks, and the like. In fact, let's take a slightly modified excerpt from the book page:

Street food describes systems of everyday life. In its sheer everydayness we discover attitudes to public space, cultural diversity, health, regulation and governance, our habits and rituals, logistics and waste, and more.

It can be an integral part of our public life, our civic spaces, our streets, our neighbourhoods. Street food can help us articulate our own culture, as well as enriching it by absorbing diverse influences. And it can enable innovation at an accelerated pace by offering a lower-risk environment for experimentation.

Street food can do all of these things, but it doesn't necessarily.

This book is an attempt to unpack what's working and what isn't in Helsinki, and sketch out some trajectories as to where it could go next.

Why is food important to Sitra? Three reasons:

It enhances social sustainability: as a social object, food creates new connections between people and cultures. At a moment when Helsinki's non-Finnish-born population is expected to double in the next 10 years, this is critical. But it's not just about native and immigrant, the production lines and supply chains of food also connect across domestic geography and other demographics such as income.

It is a big part of our carbon footprint: changing carbon-intensive behavior in Finland means changing the way we eat. By focusing on how we can create more room in the market for local, organic, low carbon foods, Sitra is seeking ways to mitigate this important aspect of human behavior without sacrificing quality of life.

The service economy needs innovation too: often the story of economic growth in Finland fixates on technology, but this is a country rich in cultural and culinary assets that are waiting to be utilized as part of a unique, high quality service offering. Food and food businesses are a key opporunitity in this space.

And why now? Incursions like Ravintolapäivä and the city's first food truck Camionette indicate Helsinki is at a moment when we can also use food to understand the relationship between citizens, governance and innovation. For instance, Ravintolapäivä serves up a series of unanswered questions about what our cities' streets can do, who are they for, who decides that, and how do we decide that, as well as implicitly suggesting that our existing food business regulations may be less than 'user-centred'.

Hope to have more to share later this year as we begin to prototype some of these ideas, but for now grab a copy of the book here!


March 21st, 2012

Posted by: Bryan Boyer

Tags:  

Category: Project Updates

Timber construction growing in Finland

September 2011 rendering of Sitra's ground floor showing the timber facade, finish materials and precast concrete podium on which the timber frame/CLT office building sits © Sauerbruch Hutton
September 2011 rendering of Sitra's ground floor showing the timber facade, finish materials and precast concrete podium on which the timber frame/CLT office building sits © Sauerbruch Hutton

There are many advantages to using timber as the principal structural material in large buildings (also see this):

  • on the economic side, timber reduces conveyance and logistical costs, reduces construction time and eases work performed by downstream trades
  • on the environment side, timber building materials provide long term carbon sequestration; when harvested sustainably, timber stocks tend to improve carbon sink capacity over un-managed land
  • socially, especially in Finland, timber is a preferred finish material for its warmth, texture and connection to historic buildings and nature

Timber construction was identified early in the Low2No project as a promising way to meet our sustainability principles and is being developed as the main structural and finish material for Sitra's office building, a first in Finland.

As mentioned earlier, SRV and VVO (our client team partners) were unable to rationalize timber construction for the residential buildings, citing market conditions and other risks as limiting factors. At the time, Finland's new fire code (developed with Sitra) that allows for multi-story timber construction was hot off the press and I think the known unknowns of this code's implementation introduced too much risk into a project already loaded with "many innovations."

One 8 story CLT building binds 850 return trip flights from JFK-LHR eCO2

But just last week, SRV announced that it had entered into a partnership with Finland's forestry giant Stora Enso to build a mixed-use (commercial, office and hotel) timber building in Jätkäsaari! We are thrilled with this development. This is something we have been pushing for a long time and we hope it to be the next step that starts a wave of timber construction across Finland.

The project will use Stora Enso's proprietary approach to multi-story cross laminated timber (CLT) construction. Interestingly, their marketing for the product focuses in the quantity of carbon that an 8 CLT story building will bind for the long term. Turns out, it is about the same as 850 return flights from London to New York City! Watch their promotional video here.

While we would have loved to see this partnership initiated under the banner of the Low2No block, it is clear that Low2No is exercising a gravitational force that is pulling the industry foward and beginning the long transition to a future built environment that is carbon neutral.

October 13th, 2011

Posted by: Justin W. Cook

Tags:  

Category: Field Reports

41. Week in Review

BIM model screen shot of Sitra's timber office ©Arup
BIM model screen shot of Sitra's timber office ©Arup

Back on the job here at Low2No. Work has been proceeding at a blistering pace in London and Berlin as our design team prepares to deliver our L2, or design development, drawings next week. This is a significant point in the project's progression as "end of L2" is when the local designers will take a leadership role in project implementation.

Interior BIM model screen shot of Sitra's timber office ©Arup
Interior BIM model screen shot of Sitra's timber office ©Arup

This month is the moment when the client team will step back and perform two critical tasks: costing and project review. Even in strong markets, a €60M investment can cause some consternation. But as the euro's stability decreases with every news cycle, we have some difficult decisions ahead of us.

We are committed to a triple bottom line plus carbon (TBL+CO2) approach and will review this next phase with this principle as our top level priority. It is increasingly clear that planning requirements and real estate costs make development in Helsinki difficult, especially without basic government support instruments (such as feed-in-tariffs), but we hope to find a way to make a low carbon, mixed-use development economically viable. 

BIM model screen shot of Sitra's timber office ©Arup
BIM model screen shot of Sitra's timber office ©Arup

Interior BIM model screen shot of Sitra's timber office ©Arup
Interior BIM model screen shot of Sitra's timber office ©Arup

The client team is working to develop a joint company (landlord/janitor company) to own and manage the block's common infrastructure, energy infrastructure (PV), commercial space, and parking. When developing a block-wide sustainable solution, shared ownership provides critical synergistic benefits and is necessary to manage the block's shared resources as one entity. A joint management company solution is a new step toward social sustainability in Finland.

Sitra is also organizing a meeting with leadership from the real estate industry who are involved in writing new legislation for "3D" real estate formation (mixed-use code)—possibly to be implemented for the first time in our block. A mixed-use code will allow challenging ownership conditions to be overcome more easily, such as the one we face in our block, where the basement can have property lines independent from above ground property.

Word comes from Jukka this week on two projects he is shepherding: the European 11 Competition (he is a jury member and will tell more once it is public) and a board meeting of the LAICA project which helps individuals commercialize innovative energy solutions. The Energy Programme has continued to expand its impact and we look forward to more.

October 7th, 2011

Posted by: Justin W. Cook

Category: Weeknotes

Welcome back to Low2No!

Over the past 6 months, we have been hard at work designing and building a new home for Low2No. This new site is intended to both be a place to learn more about the city block that we are building in Helsinki's Jätkäsaari district (recently named Airut, but more about that later) and provide a platform for a global discussion around transitioning the built environment to a low carbon future.

Diagram of the website's "code commits" since April 2011. A code commit is when the developer takes a snapshot of the site and saves it as it is being coded. In this phase, there were 336411 lines of code added, 32001 lines deleted.
Diagram of the website's "code commits" since April 2011. A code commit is when the developer takes a snapshot of the site and saves it as it is being coded. In this phase, there were 336411 lines of code added, 32001 lines deleted.

Thank you to XOXCO for their tireless work on the back end of the site, and to Muotohiomo for design. Well done. Also thanks to my colleagues Bryan, Annemaria, and Olli.

The city block now has its own section on the site: the Block page where we will discuss the latest developments in its design, energy and carbon strategy, support of the people that will occupy it and some of the materials that have been developed by our team along the way.

We still believe that our Low2No competition was one of the most innovative approaches to sustainable design of the built environment anywhere, so we have refreshed and explained the many dimensions of that project here.

To the sustainability/carbon discussion side, we are beginning to open up a new area of work called the Low2No model. Low2No has always been a broad project with many initiatives. This had to do with the nature of challenge (the built environment has an extremely large set of stakeholders and areas of work), and also Sitra's mission (we work between sectors to promote systemic change).

Under the banner of the Low2No model, we are looking more directly at how our transitional approach to decarbonizing the built environment can and is being applied outside of our development project in Helsinki. We hope that this area of work will flourish following some key decisions that will be made by Sitra in the coming months.

Our new site coincides with the release of three articles, or in-depth looks at the issues central to the challenge of sustainability and the built environment as told by leading professionals from around the world. 

David Wood from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government discusses the role of private finance in building a sustainable city. Tuuli Kaskinen and Roope Mokka from Demos Helsinki reflect on their work in enabling individuals to help consumers make more energy and carbon conscious choices. And Federico Parolotto and Francesca Arcuri from Milan-based Mobility in Chain propose a better way of managing mobility and transportation planning.

These are original articles supported by Sitra and are the first of a series that will be published every month or so.

we are looking more directly at how our transitional approach to decarbonizing the built environment can and is being applied 

Finally, we will be publishing a series of dossiers that provide a broad look at issues such as carbon, energy in buildings, enabling people to make more sustainable choices, smart systems and services etc. The dossier format provides a way to expose and organize the myriad of issues, challenges and recent developments that each topic encompasses. 

This site will live and breath as we move forward with the Low2No project and will provide us the flexibility to add content as we go. Please check in regularly or subscribe to our RSS feed. And let us know what you think!

October 3rd, 2011

Posted by: Justin W. Cook

Category: Project Updates

Holcim Awards Sitra's Office Design!

The venerable Holcim Foundation has awarded Sitra's office building design an acknowledgement prize! Congratulations to Sauerbruch Hutton Architects (as main authors), Arup and Experientia! The Holcim Jury recognized the multi-story timber office design as being exceptional and the low-to-no carbon emissions principle as a significant contribution to sustainable development.

Juan Lucas Young and Andrew Kiel (Sauerbruch Hutton); Jan-Christoph Zoels (Experientia); Leo Mittelholzer (Holcim Foundation)
Juan Lucas Young and Andrew Kiel (Sauerbruch Hutton); Jan-Christoph Zoels (Experientia); Leo Mittelholzer (Holcim Foundation)

The Jury statement read: In terms of its construction and program, the office building is commended by the jury for achieving the aspired principles of transferability, transparency and inventiveness. All of the construction, even the cores and the prefab façade panels will be entirely in Finnish timber – globally an innovation for a 26m high 6-storey office building. Beyond these measures, the project has a successful holistic approach towards its design, connecting social, ecological, aesthetic and economical demands on a high level and it is thus an outstanding example of how sustainable architecture can be achieved on a larger scale. More in the award report here.

We hope that this award will help raise the profile of timber construction and an integrated design approach here in Finland. 

September 24th, 2011

Posted by: Justin W. Cook

Category: Project Updates

Low2No Camp: the making of urban entrepreneurs

A guest post by Outi Kuittinen of Demos Helsinki reporting on this week's Low2No Camp round table:

Low carbon living is about low-energy buildings, superb public transport and smart metres. It is also about groups and individuals that make our cities more beautiful, more flexible, more satisfying, more democratic and more sustainable. Low2No Camp organised by Demos Helsinki with support from Sitra, started this May by bringing together 25 passionate urban activists from Helsinki. To feed their imagination and to raise their bar higher, we shipped them to Berlin in a cargo ship to teach and to learn how to make our cities more sustainable and better to live. Back in Helsinki, we asked them to build their solution for a sustainable city and let them loose.

In summer months the campers were busy organizing their usual stuff like Helsinki Night Bike Rides, Ravintolapäivä (Restaurant day), Kallio Block Party, Punajuuri Block Party and farming urban vegetables. But on those hot days they also scribbled a lot of Post-its, discussed over Facebook, met face to face and sketched presentations thinking and thinking how to scale up what they are doing.

This week in Jätkäsaari they came out to potential partners. What we saw was our urban enthusiasts grown into urban entrepreneurs. They want to change the way we produce our food, use our space, dress ourselves and think of our possibilities to make the city our own. We are very proud to present 100 Ways to Eden, Hukkatila Ltd, pukuhuone.fi, School of Activism and Aquaponics Finland.

What is common to these ventures is that they don't do it all ready for us but enable us, the citizens of the city, to do ourselves.

100 ways to Eden is a cooperative that scales up urban farming. First they will take Pasila and create an urban farming centre in an old railway yard. It will harbour education, research and development on urban farming, plus exhibitions, food markets and gastronomic experiences. Next they will take Europe and Russia.

Hukkatila Ltd is a development company exploring the blue ocean of built environment: the mis- and underused square- and cubicmetres of the city. That is, for example the offices outside working hours, the basements of block of flats, derelict houses, areas waiting for the construction to start. The streetwise experts of Hukkatila will couple these spaces with right users in need, develop concepts to bring the space alive and invest in building the activity.

Pukuhuone.fi (The Dressing room) believes that in ethical and ecological consumption clothes are the new food. Pukuhuone.fi is a web-based service that helps us to develop our own style by providing well-edited inspiration, bringing us the providers that offer quality and style instead of fashion and throwawayism, enabling us to lend and rent clothes and telling how to take care of our belongings.

School of Activism continues what Low2No Camp started. It builds networks of passionate actors and seeds urban activism where its needed. It travels to help local people to solve the problems of their city. From the point of view of the public sector, School of Activism helps to commit the citizens to their city and to bring about fresh solutions. For companies it offers new creative contacts and ideas.

Aquaponics Finland is a closed system of food production that supplies us with plenty of fish and vegetables – grown in our homes, schools and neighborhoods. And it does it with 70% less energy compared to the normal cultivation.

These urban start-ups are out and they are serious. Want to help them fly? Check their contact details on their presentations or contact them through Outi: outi.kuittinen(at)demos.fi.

Thanks Outi!

September 23rd, 2011

Posted by: Justin W. Cook

Category: Field Reports

A Prize for Experientia and Low2No

Congratulations to our friends and colleagues at Experientia for winning Italy's National Prize for Innovation in Services! 

Early user-energy interface developed for Low2No by Experientia and the Design Team
Early user-energy interface developed for Low2No by Experientia and the Design Team

In Rome, the President of the Italian republic, Giorgio Napolitano, awarded Experientia for their work in the Low2No project as part of Italy's National Day of Innovation. The award cited Experientia's planning of "a residential area in Finland with low CO2 emissions, using innovative methodologies devised in Italy." 

Experientia's President Michele Visciola receives the Italian National Prize for Innovation in Services from the President of the Italian Republic Giorgio Napolitano [Experientia]
Experientia's President Michele Visciola receives the Italian National Prize for Innovation in Services from the President of the Italian Republic Giorgio Napolitano [Experientia]

See Experientia's press release and an interview with Senior Partner Mark Vanderbeeken. We are thrilled for Experientia and excited that Low2No has received international recognition for its innovative approach to improving the built environment. Our congratulations to Jan-Christoph, Mark, Irene and the Low2No team at Experientia!

June 15th, 2011

Posted by: Justin W. Cook

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Category: Field Reports

Visit to Katri Vala district heating and cooling plant

Those embarking on major urban developments often conduct study tours in order to benchmark their plans against current best practice. As Low2No begins to pick up pace, we’re beginning to become a stop on such tours, even though there’s only a hole in the ground in terms of tangible progress at Jätkäsaari.

Katri Vala district heating and cooling plant, Helsinki [Dan Hill]
Katri Vala district heating and cooling plant, Helsinki [Dan Hill]

Last weekend, the Low2No team received visitors from a major urban planning project in Melbourne, Australia. I’d worked on that project’s initiation stage when at Arup, co-running one of the original design charrettes with Grimshaw Architects, who make up the project’s core designers with Field Operations out of New York. So it was great to see familiar faces at a very different latitude, and lead them through 24 hours worth of download about Low2No and the context of urban development in Helsinki.

Katri Vala district heating and cooling plant, Helsinki [Dan Hill]
Katri Vala district heating and cooling plant, Helsinki [Dan Hill]

The Australian-based team, led by the Victorian State Government, and in particular the State’s urban development arm, VicUrban, were particularly interested in our take on energy generation and consumption, including behaviour change and consumer attitudes, in terms of Low2No. As they’d just flown in from Stockholm that morning (previously having seen projects such as Bo01 in Malmö and Orestad in Copenhagen), I woke them up with a brisk walk around Töölönlahti, still beautiful despite the slate grey skies and northerly breeze. And later that afternoon, we hosted a summit at Sitra HQ, with Sitra project leaders Jukka Noponen and Marco Steinberg.

In between, however, we hosted a tour of Helsinki’s best-kept secrets— the vast, underground district heating and cooling system at Katri Vala Park in the Sörnäinen district.

Katri Vala district heating and cooling plant, Helsinki [Dan Hill]
Katri Vala district heating and cooling plant, Helsinki [Dan Hill]

Niko Wirgentius of Helsingin Energia was kind enough to give up his Saturday afternoon to show us around this extraordinary facility. There’s more information at the Helsingin Energia website, though it’s probably fair to see that this is something you have to experience in the flesh to understand the significance of this scale of investment.

Niko led our team through an unmarked door and down into the plant. It’s around 25 metres underground though there are numerous tunnels leading in and out that go a lot deeper. The equipment is of course enormous, contained within cave after cave blasted from the firm bedrock that Helsinki sits upon (which is what partly enables the city’s extensive network of subterranean infrastructure.) Equipment is manufactured all over Europe, with the country of origin represented by a flag stuck on the side. These plants are connected by energy tunnels and service corridors which run for tens of kilometres, sometimes via underground lakes, in all directions.
Wirgentius is quick to point out that it’s the world’s largest heat pump, but what the facility does is simple; it just does it at scale.

Katri Vala district heating and cooling plant, Helsinki [Dan Hill]
Katri Vala district heating and cooling plant, Helsinki [Dan Hill]

“A high volume of purified wastewater, the heat of which is utilised in district heat production, flows in the wastewater outfall tunnel 24 hours a day. In winter, heat energy is obtained with heat pumps from purified wastewater, which is led from the Viikinmäki central waste water treatment plant to the sea. In winter, the necessary district cooling energy is obtained direct from the sea with heat exchangers. In summer, heat energy is transmitted from the return water in district cooling, in which case the heat pumps produce both district heat and district cooling. If all of the heat produced in the summer season is not needed, the extra heat can be condensed into the sea.”

It’s a great example of a form of symbiosis, in which the waste from one system is the input into another, and the plant supplies around 40,000 residents in the district above with heating and cooling, most of whom are oblivious to the infrastructure beneath their buildings (the plant’s exact location is secret.)

The scale of investment is also impressive – the ability of the city to plan for the future by investing in such infrastructure impressed the Victorian team no end. But, as Wirgentius pointed out, the city is probably going to be around in 20 years, and will probably require some heating; it’s not a risky investment in that sense.

With Low2No, we’re currently exploring a mixed approach to energy generation, including photovoltaic for partial energy generation as well as geothermal, and with the bulk of heating and cooling requirements handled by a bio-heat product developed by Helsingin Energia. The Australian team were also interested in our approach to behaviour change and consumer behaviour, which has been developed by Arup and Experientia so far. More to follow on all that.

Katri Vala district heating and cooling plant, Helsinki [Dan Hill]
Katri Vala district heating and cooling plant, Helsinki [Dan Hill]

You don’t have to be an infrastructure geek to be impressed by Katri Vala — though those of us in the team who are had to be dragged away from exploring some of the deeper tunnels —but the aspects that the Victorian team were still talking about late into evening atop the Hotel Torni were the ability for a city to not only plan sustainable infrastructure requirements into the future, but to make and deliver upon the investment case too.

June 6th, 2011

Posted by: Dan Hill

Category: Field Reports