Are Wood Cities the future? Finland's green example

The Finnish capital welcomes a neighborhood built entirely of wood and brings back the potential of an ancient material

Rendering of the Wood City project, which brings wood back into vogue as a building material. In Finland it is becoming the key to contemporary architecture and the construction of these eight-story buildings in Helsinki is proof of this. Photo Stora Enso
Rendering of the Wood City project, which brings wood back into vogue as a building material. In Finland it is becoming the key to contemporary architecture and the construction of these eight-storey buildings in Helsinki is proof of this (Photo: Stora Enso/Anttinen Oiva Architects)

Rethinking cities to regenerate the urban fabric from a sustainable perspective. In Finland the protagonist of this revolution is the Wood and it is precisely around this material that thearchitecture of tomorrow. Example (and modern progenitor) of this trend is Wood City, a project that saw the light in 2021. By the Finnish studio AOA (Anttinen Oiva Architects), it is a neighborhood made entirely of wood on the Helsinki waterfront, at the entrance to the Jätkäsaari district.

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A detail of the residential buildings of Wood City in Helsinki. The design of the structures was highly technological and took place using the Solibri software - Photo Tiina Nykänen / Stora Enso
A detail of the residential buildings of Wood City in Helsinki. The design of the structures was highly technological and took place using the Solibri software (Photo: Tiina Nykänen/Stora Enso)

Finland, a long tradition of wooden buildings

But let's start from the beginning, because wood is certainly nothing new in Finland. Until the last century, in fact, this was the material of choice for the construction of houses and buildings. Just take a tour of the coastal cities or the archipelago to admire, even today, entire neighborhoods made entirely of wood. Porvoo, Neristan, Naantali are just some of the many Finnish cities famous for their picturesque villages which, today, give locals and tourists a magical atmosphere frozen in time.

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Just 50 km from Helsinki, Porvoo is a small town where houses built entirely of wood are still widespread - Photo by Fang-Yuan Chuang / Unsplash
Just 50 km from Helsinki, Porvoo is a small town where houses built entirely of wood are still widespread (Photo: Fang-Yuan Chuang/Unsplash)

Wood City: contemporary architecture restarts from wood

Innovation and research on materials have once again brought wood back into vogue which, with Wood City, has become as solid as steel. For the project, in fact, the veneered laminated wood (LVL), also called microlamellar: according to Stora Enso, the construction company that worked on the project, it is the most resistant wood-based material compared to its weight and, therefore, stronger than steel and decidedly lighter than to concrete. The whole project saw the light in 2021 and will be completed by 2023: Wood City has two residential buildings, an office building and a hotel under construction. The one created in Helsinki is a project in line with the new feeling of contemporary designers: as stated in a recent interview by Italo Rota, one of the most successful architects in the world “blurring the boundaries between the natural and artificial world is one of the main challenges of contemporary architecture”. And wood is certainly the perfect material to meet this challenge.

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The laminated wood that was used to build the Wood City buildings is fireproof, as it has been subjected to precise treatments. Furthermore, its surface is naturally less porous than traditional wood and, therefore, fires are much less likely to occur - Photo Stora Enso
The multi-layered wood that was used to build the Wood City buildings is fireproof, as it has been subjected to precise treatments. Furthermore, its surface is naturally less porous than traditional wood and, therefore, fires are much less likely to occur (Photo: Stora Enso)

Wood city: wood is the key to urban sustainability

Among the natural materials, it is right around the Wood that you are building a new type of architecture which, treasuring the lessons of the past, aims at innovation to give life to greener cities capable of achieving the goal of carbon neutrality imposed by the very important climate agreements. In Finland, in particular, the progress runs fast. It is the government itself, in fact, that supports wooden construction, providing subsidies and assistance to builders. The objective of the country, in fact, is that at least 45% of public buildings be made and built in wood, so as to achieve carbon neutrality by 2025 and make Finland become concrete example of circular economy in Europe.

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The Central Library of Helsinki Oodi is a modern structure that refers to the new architectural current that brings wood back into city buildings - Photo by Vadim Morozov on Unsplash
The Central Library of Helsinki Oodi is a modern structure that refers to the new architectural current that brings wood back into city buildings (Photo: Vadim Morozov/Unsplash)

Wood in architecture: a virtuous example for the whole of Europe

Finnish diligence could become an example and a positive case history for all the other countries of the old continent. L'environmental impact of cities, in fact, is still too high. To reiterate it is the architect, engineer and urban planner Carlo Ratti who, during a panel held during the Festival of American Culture, made clear the need to reinvent both cities and the surrounding urban fabric: “the environmental impact of cities on the planet can be summarized in four figures: although cities occupy only 2% of the planet's surface, they welcome 55% of the world's population, are responsible for 75% of energy consumption and produce 80 % of CO2 emissions".

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Irrigation in one of the parcels of the WSL forest research site of Pfynwald, in Valais (Photo Michèle Kaennel DobbertinWSL)
Irrigation in one of the parcels of the WSL forest research site of Pfynwald, in Valais (Photo Michèle Kaennel DobbertinWSL)

Why is wood a sustainable material in architecture?

Il Wood could be one of cornerstones of the global ecological revolution: although it has accompanied man since the dawn of civilization, first as fuel, then as a building material, it was set aside for decades in favor of reinforced concrete and steel. Today it becomes top of the range again to embody one of the strategies with which to combat the climate crisis.

In fact, wood is synonymous with sustainability and, in addition to being naturally insulating, it is also versatile and suitable for the construction of buildings and furnishings. If worked correctly, in fact, the material is able to store more carbon than is then emitted in the subsequent stages of collection, transformation and processing. A tree, in fact, absorbs carbon dioxide throughout its life, then storing it inside when it becomes a building material. Furthermore, the woodworking itself has a Minimal environmental impact for the scarce use of fossil fuels it employs, as well as water.

It goes without saying that thesustainable use of wood it also depends on reasoned and responsible management of wooded areas, for which foresight and care are needed, necessary to keep the entire forest ecosystem healthy and profitable. But that, after all, is another matter.

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Terra Solida, leader in the natural paving sector, creates environmentally friendly and low environmental impact roads - Photo Terra Solida
Terra Solida, leader in the natural paving sector, creates environmentally friendly and low environmental impact roads – Photo Terra Solida

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Solid Earth News was born with the intention of creating a digital magazine on the theme of sustainability: a topic which, linked to innovation, can completely transform the urban fabric and beyond. Why the green revolution in the city passes not only through wood, but also throughenergy efficiency and by infrastructure. Building efficient but environmentally friendly roads this is precisely Terra Solida's mission, an objective that today becomes a priority to protect the planet and the health of the people who inhabit it. And it is precisely in this sense that green materials are making their way today which, also welcomed on city arteries, car parks and paths in nature, have little impact on the environment both from the point of view of the carbon footprint and from that of landscape protection. Let us think, for example, of the stabilized recycled: comes from the demolition of buildings of various kinds and is a green inert which, mixed with environmentally friendly binders, gives life to ecological road surfaces and surfaces that are perfectly integrated into the surrounding environment. Today innovation and technology are the key to that ecological revolution which, by recovering materials as old as they are versatile, is finally preparing to shape the face of our cities.

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The presentation trailer of the “Wood City” project launched by Stora Enso

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Wood is a material of inestimable value, as well as one of the most important natural capitals that man has at his disposal. Protecting forests is essential for wood use to remain sustainable - Photo by Geran de Klerk on Unsplash
Wood is a material of inestimable value, as well as one of the most important natural capitals that man has at his disposal. Protecting forests is essential for wood use to remain sustainable - Photo by Geran de Klerk on Unsplash