Helsinki, Finland

CLIENT Sitra, The Finnish Innovation Fund
PROGRAM Mixed-use sustainable development containing 14,000 m² of residential units, an 8,000 m² headquarters, and 13,200 m² of “Urban Infill”
AREA 35,200 m² (378,900 sf)
STATUS Limited competition 2009; second prize 2009
ARCHITECT REX|Croxton Collaborative|NOW
REX PERSONNEL Garrick Ambrose, Haviland Argo, E. Sean Bailey, Thomas Baker, Christopher Barley, Behrang Behin, Barrett Brown, Keith Burns, Wayne Congar, Juilanne Gola, Adam Koogler, Joshua Ramus, Jacob Reidel, Troy Therrien
CONSULTANTS 2×4, Arup New York, Bureau Bas Smets, Front, Jonathan Rose Companies, Magnusson Klemencic, Transsolar


Currently, Finland has one of the world’s largest per capita ecological footprints, and faces a massive challenge in overcoming its environmental deficit. At first glance, there seems to be no problem. Finland has little population growth and Finns are moving toward cities.


However, closer analysis reveals migration is to suburban belts around cities, leading to sprawl.


Sprawl consumes natural capital, depleting Finland’s carbon sink. Simply improving the energy efficiency of its new and existing buildings is not enough to put Finland back into ecological balance.


The energy efficiency of buildings is a relatively small factor when compared to the carbon intensive lifestyles that accompany mass suburban migration. Finland must decide if it is willing to change its behavior—to migrate toward more populated, more vital, more sustainable cities— to go from “low-” to “no-” carbon.

Finland has a history of surmounting collective challenges with nation-wide rebuilding projects. It is therefore uniquely capable of galvanizing around a new, nation-wide project—“REBUILDING 2.0”—that funnels growth and migration to make more Nature, more City, and less Sprawl. 

REBUILDING 2.0 offers a toolkit, including the following five apparatuses:


1. Growth Boundaries

Growth Boundaries established between city and nature allow cities to become more dense and efficient while nature is protected and ecologically enhanced.


2. The Transfer of Development Rights 

Working in concert with Growth Boundaries, the Transfer of Development Rights establishes sender/receiver relationships for exchanging development rights between areas with ecosystem service potential and areas where urban growth is desired.


3. An Ecological Balance Plan

A comprehensive and integrated Ecological Balance Plan goes far beyond LEEDTM and other existing green models to steer development at the scale of buildings, sites, and infrastructure.

4. A Decision Making Tool

A Decision Making Tool—combining population and service accessibility metrics with analyses of natural systems and infrastructural capacity—capitalizes on Finland’s data rich society to provide a quantitative means of analyzing and iteratively improving population density, programmatic diversity, and low-carbon travel. This tool gives policy makers, planners, developers and citizens a common understanding of the underlying patterns that shape their community’s carbon-footprint, and can inform consensus-driven systemic action, such as the drawing of Growth Boundaries.


5. Repopulating the Urban Core

Evolving from Helsinki’s traditional perimeter block fabric, a new building typology re-injects population into the urban core, optimizing the city center’s underused infrastructure and amenities.


5. Repopulating the Urban Core

Although contrary to Finland’s current self-image, widely distributed slender towers outperform all typological alternatives in nearly every imaginable, sustainable way. Combining the best of suburbia (sun, air, views, and even soil) with the best of urbanism (population density and programmatic diversity), slender towers are the next evolutionary step in Helsinki’s perimeter block typology, creating a new option for downtown living.


Instead of a narrow-minded focus on the energy performance of buildings, these tools are the basis of a comprehensive national strategy—REBUILDING 2.0—that can put Finland back into ecological balance.


“THE REBUILDING” is the application of REBUILDING 2.0 at the scale of a single site, where key strategies can be tested for their application to, and replication within, the greater Helsinki Metropolitan Area. Designed to generate more density, more diversity, and more City, THE REBUILDING includes the following three components:

1. Residential Towers
2. Headquarters
3. Urban Infill


1. Residential Towers

Two slender Residential Towers totaling 14,000 m²…


1. Residential Towers

…replace Finland’s conventional concrete construction with highly sustainable and recyclable steel construction, whose lateral stability is provided by an exoskeleton that…


1. Residential Towers

…enables easy plan reconfiguration and solar optimization.


1. Residential Towers

West Tower Option A


1. Residential Towers

Contrary to conventional construction methods, the Residential Towers’ façades are composed of a permanent mullion “chassis” which supports…


1. Residential Towers

…interchangeable window and insulation cassettes that aid flexibility over time, and…


1. Residential Towers

…that can be easily maintained or replaced by new technologies.


1. Residential Towers

Manually operable façade panels update the typical Finnish exterior balcony. A simple mechanism common in minivans enables the operable panels to be opened horizontally. During summer, the open panels provide an identical experience to that of a typical Finnish balcony. During winter, however, the operable panels can be kept closed, increasing usable interior area and solar gain while reducing thermal loss.


1. Residential Towers

Manually operable façade panels update the typical Finnish exterior balcony. A simple mechanism common in minivans enables the operable panels to be opened horizontally. During summer, the open panels provide an identical experience to that of a typical Finnish balcony. During winter, however, the operable panels can be kept closed, increasing usable interior area and solar gain while reducing thermal loss.


2. Headquarters 

8,000 m² of office space is dimensioned to accommodate different and evolving work styles and allows for proximity, interconnectedness, and future company expansion.


2. Headquarters 

Cohesion within the Headquarters is fostered by concentrating collective spaces and circulation…


2. Headquarters 

…within a highly transparent courtyard, thereby promoting interaction and resource-sharing.


2. Headquarters 

The resulting plan unites flexibility and expandability…


2. Headquarters 

…with community-building and elegance.


3. Urban Infill

50,000 m3 (13,200 m²) of Urban Infill—a hybrid between a building and a development strategy—retains conceptual coherence, while fostering evolution and multiple authorship.


3. Urban Infill

Capable of being “tuned” to meet the specific and changing needs of its neighborhood, the Urban Infill’s variable scale and construction methods can absorb a diverse mix of uses—some temporary, some permanent—such as restaurants, galleries, gyms, theaters, supermarkets, even indoor play fields.


3. Urban Infill

Drawing from the unmet needs of its surroundings, the Urban Infill is a laboratory for testing social, cultural, and market viability for future mixed-use buildings within Helsinki and its new development areas.


3. Urban Infill

Should all the Urban Infill not be initially developed, interim public functions—or Urban Rooms—can anticipate amenities planned for Helsinki’s new development areas, such as a farmer’s market.


While THE REBUILDING projects a 40% reduction in energy consumption, a 50% reduction in carbon emissions, and a 65% reduction in embodied carbon, it recognizes that urbanism itself is the epitome of sustainability. It is dense, diverse, evolving, and full of people—living and working, meeting and sleeping, growing up and making things.


By concentrating 22,000 m² of program 14 meters above grade into two slender residential towers unified by a two story office ring…


…and allowing for an additional 13,200 m² of fine grain development to occupy the street level frontage…


…THE REBUILDING becomes a paradigm of density and diversity.


This is what sustainability looks like.


Finland has immense financial, natural, infrastructural, and intellectual wealth at its disposal. The nation also possesses a unique catalyst to power systemic change: Sitra, the Finnish Innovation Fund. It is time for Finns to galvanize these strengths to meet the challenge of carbon neutrality, to become a global exemplar.

Image Credits: 1, 13, 22, 25, 27, 31, 37: Luxigon; 14, 28: Radii

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