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001 Low2No Master Plan.jpg

Low2No Master Plan

Jätkäsaari, Helsinki, Finland

In early 2009, SITRA, the Finnish Innovation Fund, challenged five teams of architects and thinkers to develop an integrated, phased strategy for the creation of a model urban community which would produce low, and ultimately, no, carbon emissions. 

SITRA requested the design of a building for a single site in Jätkäsaari’s current one square kilometer master plan. Judged on its own terms, this existing master plan was an excellent piece of work and a remarkable achievement. However, it had been conceived several years prior, in the absence of the stringent environmental goals and guidelines necessitated by climate change and outlined in the current mandate. With relatively low density, substantial space given to car usage, and an orientation and configuration of buildings not optimized for Helsinki’s latitude, the existing master plan was the answer to a set of questions far different from those we had been explicitly asked to address.

Our Jätkäsaari Urban Strategy counters the recent trend of planned eco-suburbs in the Middle East and Asia that are without historical background or connection. Low Carbon, High Urban embraces the future-oriented Finnish capital of Helsinki, and charts a new course for the sustainable development of European urban landscapes.

Integrated within the proposed Urban Strategy is a strategically optimized site for the proposed SITRA building, one that intelligently incorporates the stipulated programs outlined in the mandate, and rests at the helm of an entire low to no carbon community.

SITRA Headquarters: Building as Urban Generator

Conceived as an urban generator for Jätkäsaari, the project is located on the most visible and prominent site on Jätkäsaari. It will be the first building that comes into view as one approaches Jätkäsaari from downtown Helsinki. The first building to be constructed following the new Urban Strategy, it is designed to be the harbinger of the sustainable future, and witness to its unfolding over time.

The sustainability strategies employed in this building complex prefigure those of the larger project. These strategies include: the use of wood gas as a fuel for an on-site micro electrical and heat generator; solar panels on the roof and south facing walls to produce electricity; construction that privileges the use of wood, both for its cultural/economic value as a native material, and its ability to embed carbon within it, avoiding the emission of carbon by reducing the amount of concrete used; and ready access to public transport by both tram and boat.

Construction and Energy Logic

The SITRA Headquarters's sustainability strategies anticipate those of the larger project. Wood gas is used as a fuel for an on-site micro electrical and heat generator, and solar panels on the roof and south facing facade also produce electricity. The use of native wood, a building material with strong cultural connections to this area, here provides economic and sustainable value through wood's ability to capture carbon emissions and through the reduction of the amount of concrete used in construction.

Programmatic Flexibility

The modular design of the building allows for multiple and rearrangeable uses of the suites around the building cores. Not only can the locations of various usages change, but so can the proportion of space dedicated to each function as needed. This flexibility is built into the structure without disrupting the basic legibility or use of the building.

Sustainable Urban Strategies

Within the framework of a Low Carbon, High Urban strategy for reducing carbon emissions we posit a series of sustainable urban strategies that will guide the future development of Jätkäsaari toward ecological self-sufficiency, long-term resiliency, and fiscal sustainability.

Urban Connectivity

Jätkäsaari, as an industrial port, has traditionally been an "other" as opposed to the rest of Helsinki. A principal goal of the proposed urban strategy is to establish the new Jätkäsaari as an integrated, inseparably connected, and highly valued part of the city.

Our proposal is to redress, redirect, and reconnect Jätkäsaari to the northeast, into the heart of Helsinki. Two important, historic streets, Lonnrotink and Kalevankatu, can be axially extended through Jätkäsaari to provide an elegant means to this end.

Configuration and Orientation

Extensive analysis of the movement and effect of the sun during winter months made it clear that orientation and configuration of streets and buildings play an enormous role on the quantity and quality of daylight available. Streets oriented north/south and long, narrow “bar buildings” — and not courtyard buildings — were optimal for this northern latitude. Maximizing the amount of daylight not only reduces energy use but also improves people’s sense of well-being.

Density as Strategy

In recent decades, Finland has experienced a significant trend toward larger dwelling units and lower density. One of the main goals of our urban strategy was to reverse this trend, and to achieve a high level of density of people per hectare — one of the key indicators of sustainability.


Our goal was to create an urban condition in which all buildings are accessible by car, but, for reasons of convenience and pleasure, private cars are all but unused in the neighborhood. This strategy for minimal to no car usage is enacted by providing exemplary tram service to all parts of the site, where, on average, walking distances to a tram stop would be only two minutes.

Interconnected Networks: An Armature for Flexible Growth

One of the most basic elements of a city is what is often referred to as the “grid,” which sets the patterns, alignments and dimensions of streets. A well-conceived and calibrated grid undergirds, organizes, and anticipates other networks and systems that go into the making of a city. A good grid is rigorous, systematic and logical, yet enables the exceptional and the particular to occur within it as well. Our strategy proposes a grid composed of two principal parts: the normative part — the north/south grid — which is the latitude- and geography-specific condition; and the exceptional, connective part — Kalevankatu and Lonnrotink streets — which is the Helsinki-specific condition.

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