Niiralan Kulma emphasises green and societal values in ten new projects

Niiralan Kulma, the largest rental company in Kuopio, invests significantly in sustainable and environmentally friendly living.

Niiralan Kulma’s recent investments adapt to the changing needs of Kuopio. New residents move to the city for work, and they need comfortable homes. Simultaneously Kuopio is preparing for population ageing by building service housing.

“Ten years ago, we talked about affordable, quality housing. Now our strategy has expanded to include responsibility, which must cover environmental and social values,” says Kari Keränen, CEO of Niiralan Kulma.

Seven new apartment buildings are currently financed with MuniFin’s green finance, and three service housing projects have been completed with MuniFin’s social finance.

“When we evaluated long-term interest rates, MuniFin offered the most affordable solution. The margin and the interest rate were lowered because these new projects are green and social.”

Cozy and environmentally friendly homes

Niiralan Kulma is building homes in seven different locations across the city of Kuopio.

“We are planning and building cozy homes that effectively utilise energy-saving technology and renewable energy. Building technology takes into account the by-products of energy. We use geothermal heat, recover heat from wastewater, capture excess energy from mechanical ventilation, and utilise solar energy. It was very important to design the houses to be maintenance-free and long-lasting,” Keränen says.

Many methods are in use to improve environmental friendliness. The new apartments do not have unusable space that requires heating, and there are multiple waste bins in the apartments for recycling.

“In addition to the living spaces, we have invested in bicycle parking and charging points for electric cars. The smallest details are important, for example, with electronic notice boards, no papers have to be printed to inform the residents.”

Service housing for seniors and young adults

Männistön Aimu, which offers rehabilitative service housing for young adults, was completed in early 2020. Next completed in 2022, Liito-orava care home, provides service housing apartments and rental apartments for seniors. Most recently, Levänen service center was opened for residents in October 2023.

“Both the service center and the care home offer 60 places for residents, which are rented by the wellbeing services county of North Savo. They also organise the care needed by seniors.”

Residents were involved in the planning of the service centers, and they as well as the care staff have been satisfied with the end results. Männistön Aimu’s small apartment building is inviting from the outside: unpainted wooden surfaces of the house are environmentally friendly and stand out from the street view.

The costs of these projects were the following: Männistön Aimu is EUR 2.1 million, Liito-orava is EUR 10.2 million and the Levänen service center is EUR 8.7 million.

“We want to thank the staff of MuniFin. We received a lot of help and clear instructions when we needed them. The financing arrangement has been smooth.”

Affordable social housing

The Finnish affordable social housing sector plays a significant role in the development of a sustainable welfare state. In Finland, affordable social housing is mainly provided by municipality-owned companies and nationwide non-profit organisations. MuniFin is the main financier of affordable social housing production in Finland. An increasing amount of housing in Finland is being constructed and financed with consideration for social and environmental factors.

Text: Sara Pitzén
Photo: Niiralan Kulma

The Finlandia Prize Awarded Martta Wendelin Daycare Centre is a demonstration of environmental consciousness and child-focused philosophy

Originating from the vision of children, the Tuusula-based Martta Wendelin Daycare Centre embodies respect for children and sustainable development.

Since the summer of 2022, this exceptional building has added life to the scenery of the municipality of Tuusula in Southern Finland. The Martta Wendelin Daycare Centre, designed with children’s needs in mind, won the prestigious Finlandia Prize for Architecture for its distinctive architecture and execution.

User-oriented approach and ecological values steered the project

As part of the service network design in 2018, Tuusula resolved to replace several old daycare centres with new buildings. Stemming from a vision of preschoolers, the Martta Wendelin Daycare Centre was established, resulting in a new daycare centre in Tuusula with 10 groups, providing about 200 daycare places for children.

“The idea for the daycare centre was born when we started sketching a vision of the dream playground together with preschool-aged children. Later, the Martta Wendelin Society joined the project. This was natural, as the artist Martta Wendelin, known for her depictions of Finnish rural and home life, spent most of her life right here in Tuusula,” recalls Tiina Simons, Director of Education in Tuusula, about the early stages of the project.

Martta Wendelin’s art is also a prominent part of the daycare’s interior decoration.

“The entire project has been carried out using user-centred design. The history of Tuusula has been brought into the building in a skillful and beautiful manner,” says Pirjo Sirén, Director of Municipal Development.

Significant efforts have been made in the implementation of the Martta Wendelin Daycare to utilise environmentally friendly solutions and climate-smart construction. This can be seen, for example, in the energy efficiency and in the way the principles of the circular economy have been taken into account both during the construction phase and in the planning of the building’s life cycle.

Thanks to its environmental friendliness, the project has been financed with green finance from MuniFin.

“Although the high-quality implementation of the daycare required a significant investment, we expect to achieve savings on the operating budget side. Combining four early education units into one makes the organization of operations more cost-effective and the maintenance of the property easier,” says Markku Vehmas, the acting Chief of Staff of the municipality.

Children and nature come first

The Martta Wendelin Daycare Centre embodies respect for the environment and sustainable development. The building has been constructed with materials that prioritise environmental friendliness and health.

“The structures of the exterior and interior walls as well as the intermediate floors have used CLT massive construction that acts as a carbon sink. The design of the spaces has focused on diversity and flexibility so that they can serve different purposes. The yard designed for play and exercise beautifully opens to the south. Part of the forest has also been left on the yard area to be preserved, as well as a stormwater puddle where children can jump to their heart’s content in rainy weather,” Sirén describes.

“The building has also not been filled with colors or artworks. The wooden surfaces create frames into which the children can bring colors,” Simons continues.

The exceptional nature of the building has brought various recognitions to the municipality. In addition to the Finlandia Prize for Architecture, the daycare centre has also won the 2023 International Award for Wood Architecture, awarded by five European architectural journals.

“I also consider the awards as a tribute to our high-quality early childhood education,” Simons states.

Most importantly, positive feedback has been received from the users of the building.

“We have received particular praise for the brightness and spaciousness of the spaces. Children love being at the daycare and enjoy themselves both indoors and in the yard activities,” Simons rejoices.

Finance for Finland's green transition

MuniFin has offered its customers green finance for sustainable investments since 2016. Funding for green projects is sourced by issuing green bonds. For investors, MuniFin’s green bonds offer a way to finance positive impacts through carefully selected projects in e.g. buildings, transportation and renewable energy categories.

Read more about green bonds

Text: Anne Laiho
Photo: The municipality of Tuusula

The new urban trams in the capital region are leading towards a low emission future

At the end of October, the fast tram 15, which runs from Keilaniemi in Espoo to Itäkeskus in Helsinki, started its operations. This approximately 25-kilometre-long line replaces the previously heavily trafficked bus line 550. Other new line starting its operations in 2024, connects the current tram, metro, and train networks to each other on the route between Kalasatama and Pasila.

Green financing accelerates low emission public transport

Both tram projects have been financed with MuniFin’s green financing. This form of financing is intended for investment projects that produce clear and measurable positive effects on the climate and the environment. According to Satu Talvio, environmental expert at Metropolitan Area Transport Ltd, MuniFin was a natural financing partner, as the projects are based on reducing emissions and being environmentally friendly.

“The projects have been implemented based on political will, the aim of which is sustainable growth and dense urban structure of the city. Tram projects enable residents to move around with low emissions and reduce traffic carbon emissions. The responsibility of urban transport, on the other hand, is to build rail infrastructure with as low emissions as possible. Our strategic goal is to be carbon neutral by 2030”, says Talvio.

Both projects have been implemented with the alliance model, in which the client organisation established by the cities, the planner and the contractor merge into a single alliance organisation.

“This type of cooperation has produced many new insights and innovations. Thanks to the alliance model, the process is more transparent, and the total costs are lower than in the traditional contract model. In addition, possible risks are shared equally among all parties”, Talvio continues.

Learning opportunities and low-emission mobility

Both tram projects are significant, as they are the first major rail investments in the capital region for a long time.

“Along the way, we have learned a lot about material efficiency, circular economy, and certifications. The project named Raide-Jokeri or fast tram 15 has progressed excellently and was completed ahead of schedule. On the other hand, global crises and the resulting price increases have had a greater impact on the cost increase of the Kalasatama to Pasila project due to the timing of construction, but they have not affected the schedule”, Talvio recounts.

Karoliina Rajakallio, Chief Financial and Strategy Officer of Kaupunkiliikenne Oy, also sees the projects as development laboratories.

We are not only developing the end result of the project, but at the same time we are learning and creating guidelines for future projects, Rajakallio states.

The rail projects have many effects on the everyday life of city residents from both a mobility and urban development perspective.

“Fast trams make their impact areas more attractive and catalyse urban development projects and area renewals. They increase the demand for premises and house prices, thus improving the vitality of the areas”, Rajakallio lists.

Trams also help city residents implement green values in their daily lives.

“City residents can move from place to place with low emissions, which reduces individual carbon footprint”, Talvio continues.

Fast tram traffic has started well after the initial minor technical challenges.

“Although the large number of passengers on the opening weekend caused minor schedule delays, the situation has since levelled off. The operation and adherence to the schedule of fast tram traffic are now at a good level. Overall, the start of fast tram traffic has gone very smoothly”, Talvio says.

Green Finance

MuniFin grants green financing to projects that generate clear and measurable positive climate and environmental impacts. Green financing, that is more affordable than ordinary loans or leasing, has been granted since 2016, and today there are over 300 projects within the financing from Helsinki to Inari.

Read more about green bonds

Satakuntatalo has a thriving student community

Located in the heart of Helsinki, the Satakuntatalo student apartment building was a little run-down after housing students for 70 years. It has now undergone extensive renovations, but contrary to the general trend in student housing, it continues to mostly offer rooms in shared apartments. Four students talk about their life in the newly renovated student nation building.

Finnish universities have student associations known as student nations, which are cross-disciplinary communities that bring together university students of different ages and fields. Their members often come from the same region of Finland, but students are free to join any student nation. Student nations typically have their own buildings or facilities where members gather for leisure activities and celebrations and to spend time together, and the buildings may also have student accommodation. Satakuntatalo is the oldest of such buildings in inner Helsinki. It has both student housing and other facilities of Satakunta Nation, the student nation for students with ties to the Satakunta region in Western Finland.

The Satakuntatalo building has a common area on the fifth floor, which is open to all residents and Satakunta Nation members around the clock. Eero Kemppinen, 24, Mikko Höytö, 21, and Anniina Tolonen, 22, are sitting by the kitchen table, brewing coffee and talking about their daily life.

Kemppinen is a master’s student in law and also the student nation’s master of parties. He has been a member of Satakunta Nation for four years and lived in the building before it was renovated.

“When I moved from Rauma to Helsinki to study, my friends suggested that I should look for housing in Satakuntatalo. I quickly found my community here, and all these nice people made me want to move back here as soon as the renovations were finished”, Kemppinen recalls.

The building is special for the events that are organised every week in the common rooms and for the like-minded people. The party master finds it very convenient that both the organisers and participants of the events live under the same roof.

“This building is home to a large inderdisciplinary community. We regularly organise tea parties, sitsfests and larger events such as the annual pre-Christmas party”, Kemppinen says.

Housing for students with Satakunta in their heart

The building’s shared apartments have Finnish names derived from the floor numbers, such as Kutoskongi or Seiskapääty. Kemppinen lives in a five-person apartment on the seventh floor, while Höytö, a bachelor’s student in economics, lives in an unusually large fourteen-person apartment on the sixth floor.

Common area with a large blue corner sofa and a wooden coffee table. A window at the back and a fishing net on the other wall.
The interior design contains elements from the Satakunta region.

“I discovered this student building when I was comparing housing prices in Helsinki. Such a low rent in such a central location immediately caught my attention. I wasn’t entirely sure about having so many flatmates at first, but I decided to give it a shot and never regretted it. We have an excellent community spirit and a culture of our own in our apartment. Good company is always nearby, but you also get to enjoy the peace and quiet of your own room”, Höytö says.

Satakunta Nation welcomes people from Satakunta, but also people who are Satakunta-minded. Kemppinen comes from Satakunta, but Höytö is from Kuopio and Tolonen from the Capital Region.

“You get to know other parts of Finland by just living here”, notes Tolonen, a master’s student in economics. She lives in a ten-person apartment on the seventh floor and keeps close touch with her flatmates on a daily basis. She feels that having lots of like-minded people of the same age around makes it easy to connect with new people.

Apartment master keeps daily life running smoothly

The renovation included repairs for all apartments and common areas. All apartments now have their own shared kitchen, and the building also has sauna facilities, a common area referred to as the guild room, a library and a roof terrace where the residents can barbecue in the summer. The shared facilities are used frequently.

“Before the renovation, the building was in a rather poor condition. Now the kitchens are more spacious, and the surfaces look and feel fresh. Ventilation is also much better, which makes all the difference especially during the coldest and hottest times of the year”, Kemppinen comments.

A view of Satakuntatalo’s modern kitchen, with small cabinets and a sink on the window wall, and large cabinets and kitchen appliances on the opposite wall.
A modernised kitchen in a shared apartment.

Each shared apartment has a designated apartment master to keep daily life running smoothly, ensuring for example that everyday items like soaps and dish brushes are always available.

“I’m the designated apartment master in our apartment”, Höytö says. “We have no trouble keeping the shared areas tidy, which I take as a sign of a good community spirit. The shared kitchen also allows for spontaneous shared moments during meals. First a couple of people sit down at the table, and a moment later the table is full.”

“And if the fridge is looking empty, we often pool our resources and start cooking together. Suddenly there’s a whole big meal to share with the flatmates”, Tolonen adds. She has also taken on the role of an apartment master.

Student life resumes 

“You could call this values-based living for students. It’s kind of like the Hogwarts of Satakunta – we have our own histories, mysteries and facilities where our members can study in and be whatever they want to be. We are extremely grateful for the people who originally came up with the idea of this building”, says Riikka Pasanen, Satakunta Nation’s curator.

The building was ready to house residents again in autumn 2022. Renovations for the apartments are complete, but the shared gym and woodworking workshop are still in need of some finishing touches.

“I used to live here when I was studying, and I’m impressed by how much the renovation improved the facilities and how the funding was arranged. Not everything is ready yet, but student life has already resumed, and that’s the best part”, Pasanen continues.

“I moved in as a new resident after the renovation, but I like how they listened to the old residents and made the facilities as good as new. It feels like there’s low hierarchy and we can have a say on the things we want”, Höytö observes.

“My own identity as a student is constantly evolving. Living here feels meaningful for me and seems to give the entire community a strong identity, too”, Tolonen concludes.

The Satakuntatalo renovation was financed with MuniFin’s social finance. More information on the renovation is available in Finnish on MuniFin’s website.

Social finance

MuniFin’s social finance is granted to investments that produce widespread social benefits. Social finance projects impact their surroundings and communities in a positive way: they promote equality, communality, welfare or regional vitality.

Read more

Text: Sara Pitzén
Photos: Sami Lamberg and Satakuntalainen osakunta

The wooden apartment building quarter in Kuokkala sparks spontaneous meetings

The wooden apartment building quarter in Kuokkala is being developed by the Yrjö and Hanna Foundation, and it aims to be a pioneering project both in terms of its environmental consciousness and communality. The quarter is entitled Kalon, and it won the Asuntoreformi architecture competition in 2018. The name Kalon stems from ancient Greek philosophy and means moral beauty, beauty that is more than skin deep.

The quarter will consist of five wooden apartment buildings, which will have 166 apartments in total.

“Kalon completes the neighbourhood. The architecture and materials of the buildings tie them seamlessly to the surrounding buildings, the Kuokkala wooden church and the pioneering Puukuokka wooden apartment buildings”, says Ilkka Murto, director of real estate management at the Yrjö and Hanna Foundation.

The Kalon buildings are constructed from prefabricated wooden elements, meaning that 70–80% of the buildings are made at the factory before they are transported to the building site.

The buildings are heated with geothermal heat, and they have solar panels on the roof to generate electricity. The residents will be able to monitor their energy consumption in real time.

“The Yrjö and Hanna Foundation has decided to use geothermal heat as the primary source of energy in its buildings whenever possible. Finding places for the geothermal wells in the relatively small courtyard of the Kalon quarter was a bit of a challenge, but geothermal heat is a worthwhile investment that will pay itself back”, says Murto.

Intentional bottlenecks

The Kalon quarter consists of five wooden apartment buildings that have 166 apartments in total. Four of the five buildings have been financed with MuniFin’s green finance. Construction commenced in autumn 2022 and is expected to be completed in a couple of years. One of the buildings will have right-of-occupancy housing, two will be dedicated to communal senior housing and one will be designed for people with memory disorders. The fifth building will have non-subsidised housing offered at a market price.

“We’ve studied memory-friendly housing solutions together with the Housing Finance and Development Centre of Finland ARA and Aalto University. People with mild memory disorders can live safely in their own home for longer if the building is designed with this purpose in mind. Their life can be made easier by things like the smart use of colours”, Murto explains.

Communality has played a key role in Kalon’s design. Kalon will have common facilities, carsharing and possibly also a library of things.

“The solutions employed in the quarter foster communality. Before, we included a small common room in every building, but these are not used a whole lot. By putting the common facilities of all five buildings in one building instead, we were able to create larger and more functional common facilities for everyone.”

In Kalon, the common facilities include a kitchen, a sauna and a laundry. To increase communality, special attention has been paid to how people move from one place to another within the quarter. For example, residents walk past the common facilities on their way to the bus stop, and mail is not delivered to the apartments, but instead to letter boxes located in the common facilities.

“The common room is placed in the most interesting spot, both in terms of foot traffic and functionality. We are intentionally trying to create a bit of a bottleneck to spark spontaneous meetings”, says Murto.

Communality is further increased by Kalon’s community coordinator. Activities and community services will be developed in accordance with the residents’ needs.

“Time will tell what kinds of joint activities and joint use are created and which of them will become a permanent fixture.”

Good design makes life easier for everyone

The Yrjö and Hanna Foundation works hard to improve housing. The Kalon apartments are flexible and can be adapted to various situations in life. Solutions common in senior housing, such as zero thresholds and storage space for assistive equipment, have also been introduced to family apartments. One thing the Yrjö and Hanna Foundation will not compromise is accessibility.

“One of our buildings was designed for people who need a wheelchair. It was so successful that after a while, half of the fourteen residents were able to move about in their home without a wheelchair. Highly functional solutions are not necessarily expensive if they are well-planned and included in the designs early on. Many solutions designed for senior citizens also make life easier for families with children”, Murto points out.

The Kalon buildings, like all other buildings built by the Yrjö and Hanna Foundation, will have larger-than-usual elevators. They not only make life easier for senior citizens, but also for people with a baby pram. The importance of good design and communication is particularly pronounced in development projects and experimental projects.

“To make timber construction cost-effective, it’s vital to choose the main contractor at an early stage. This allows us to design the solutions together, which means fewer surprises during construction and helps keep the costs in check”, Murto explains.

The Kalon buildings feature large balconies and functional common facilities.

“We want to challenge existing practices in the field. But when building affordable housing, every choice must be weighed carefully to keep the rents from going up. We’ve had to make some compromises in this project, too”, Murto concedes.

The Yrjö and Hanna Foundation has worked closely not just with the architects and the contractor, but also with the City of Jyväskylä and the Kuokkala parish. The ground floor of the right-of-occupancy building will have facilities in which the parish will offer daytime activities for children. Joint activities are also in the plans, to be specified after the buildings are completed.

“This is a really nice project. Collaboration with all parties has been extremely fluent”, Murto commends.

Finance for Finland’s green transition

MuniFin has offered its customers green finance for sustainable investments since 2016. Funding for green projects is sourced by issuing green bonds. For investors, MuniFin’s green bonds offer a way to finance positive impacts through carefully selected projects in e.g. buildings, transportation and renewable energy categories.

Read more about green bonds

Text: Hannele Borra
Picture: Collaboratorio Oy

The energy-efficient Pirkkala campus: School by day and conference and culture centre by night

Planned for completion in 2025, the Pirkkala campus is an exceptionally large construction project – the largest in the municipality’s history. Pirkkala is one of Finland’s most attractive municipalities in terms of its relative population growth, and the number of its residents recently surpassed 20,000, so the need for a larger campus is urgent.

The construction site is busy with activity. The piling and foundations are already complete, and elements are currently being installed.

“The work is going well and we are right on schedule. The pandemic gave us some problems, but we cleared them without any major delays”, says Matti Juola, project manager at Rapp Valvontakonsultit Oy.

Parts of the adjacent Naistenmatka school, built in the 70s, were demolished to make way for the new campus. The old school building could not have served Pirkkala’s needs even after major renovations.

“Long and narrow corridors are a thing of the past. There was no way to turn the building into a modern school”, comments Timo Orjala, facility services manager at Pirkkala municipality.

Smooth access control is essential in multi-purpose buildings.

Multi-purpose facilities require careful planning

The Pirkkala campus will primarily serve the needs of 1,400 pupils in primary and secondary schools and early childhood education, but all residents will benefit from the new facilities. All campus areas will also be accessible during evenings and weekends. The multi-purpose hall is perfect for sports, and the auditorium doubles as a concert hall and a theatre stage. Special attention has been paid to the sound systems, acoustics and presentation technology on the campus.

The elegantly sleek three-storey building has a brick facade and lots of windows and glass surfaces. The building is not structurally complicated, but a lot of effort has gone into the design of the multi-purpose facilities. To ensure smooth access control, the premises will be equipped with smart locks, which will be programmed with both permanent and one-time access rights.

“A key can grant access to a specific path at a specific time. For example, if the user reserves a multi-purpose room for one night, the control system will change access rights only temporarily. The key will not give access to all premises, but only to the appropriate areas”, Juola explains.

The wishes of many different user groups were heard during the design phase. Plans for the individual facilities have been discussed in several workshops, and more will be organised in the future. The plan is for all groups to benefit.

“The workshops have discussed the facilities at a very detailed level. For example, teachers wanted each classroom to have two washbasins, one with a hand washing tap and one with a kitchen tap”, Juola points out.

“The users know what they need, and the designers know how to make it happen. Bringing them to the same table can achieve the best outcome, but also save time and money. And the plumber won’t have to ponder which type of tap to install in the classroom.”

Conceptual drawing of the cafeteria in Pirkkala campus. The area is in two floors and has a lot of light and long wooden tables,
Many user groups were heard in the design phase.

Consistency across the board is the key to energy efficiency

The campus project was praised by MuniFin’s Green Evaluation Team for its moderate energy consumption and carbon footprint.

“The energy efficiency and carbon footprint of the campus were included as criteria already in the tendering phase and used to compare bids. Municipalities have a strong desire to participate in climate work”, Orjala says.

The new campus will be financed by MuniFin’s property leasing, from which the municipality already has previous experience. Tommi Ruokonen, Pirkkala’s CFO, notes that flexible real estate leasing is well suited for long-term projects, as the financing costs will be distributed evenly and the large loan amount will not strain the municipality’s finances.

Property leasing was the best option for Pirkkala, in part thanks to the margin discount granted for green finance. However, the municipality aims for its new projects to meet the green criteria regardless of the financing method.

“This coincides with our climate goals and will also save the municipality some money”, Ruokonen adds.

The YIT Group will take responsibility for the project’s turnkey contract. YIT’s bid included a comprehensive approach to the environmental aspects of the project. When looking at the entire lifecycle of the buildings, the new campus will consume less than half of the energy of its predecessor.

“The new campus will have geothermal heating and cooling, solar panels and effective heat recovery. We didn’t invent any ground-breaking solutions, but just applied what we already know are tried and tested ways to save energy”, says Janne Hynynen, project manager at YIT.

Juola emphasises that environmental factors must be considered consistently across the board. If they are to be taken from paper to practice, they must not only be accounted for in municipal strategies, but also in the tendering requirements.

According to Juola, the tender process should focus on goals instead of details. In addition to environmental aspects, this type of thinking is also well suited for air quality, electricity consumption, heating, lighting or acoustics, for example.

“The best results are reached when the professionals are given clear goals and a free hand to achieve them”, Juola concludes.

Text: Roope Huotari
Kuvat: BST-Arkkitehdit Oy

New homes for people in mental health recovery: Diverse support measures help residents achieve an independent life

Mielen Association, a non-profit expert organisation that provides mental health and substance abuse services in Pirkanmaa, has commissioned a new supported accommodation unit in Nekala, Tampere. The apartment building will have 34 new homes for people recovering from mental health issues. The unit’s biggest asset is its location: the plot already houses a maisonette with 16 supported housing apartments as well as the Lideshovi activity centre.

“The new building is located by Lake Lidesjärvi, so some residents will have a view over the lake. The location is also excellent because the unit is only three kilometres from the Tampere city centre”, says Maarit Hirvonen, executive director at Mielen Association.

The new apartments are financed with MuniFin’s social finance and offer supported accommodation for people with mental health issues. The residents are offered daily support, including time with the staff members, conversational therapy and concrete help with everyday living.

“Our clients have very different needs. Some may need help with a single matter, while others require more comprehensive support. For example, our staff may offer conversational therapy to one client, but do housework with another. In addition to support with life management and medication, we can also provide social guidance or help dealing with the paperwork required for social security, for example”, Hirvonen explains.

According to Maarit Hirvonen, executive director at Mielen Association, supported accommodation is a temporary solution that yields good results.

Towards independent living

The new building will only house people recovering from mental health issues. Many residents come to supported accommodation from institutional care, but some transfer from their home and some come through social services.

“Living in supported accommodation is a temporary solution. Most of our residents live with us for a couple of years, moving on to independent living when the time is right. For municipalities, this is an affordable service because supported accommodation produces good results”, Hirvonen says.

Participation and recovery are at the heart of all Mielen Association operations. Residents get to have their say on various things, from the kind of support they need to the forms of groups and activities offered.

“Recovery is the core of our work. We believe that everyone can recover from mental illness. Difficult experiences can help people discover a way of life that is meaningful and good for them. With us, it is the clients who say what they want and how they want it. Our staff members do not tell clients what to do, but instead find a mutual way forward through discussion.”

The successful rehabilitation of the residents has long-term effects. The guidance and support that residents receive may decrease the negative effects of their mental health problems, improve their life management skills and socioeconomic situation, and empower them to live independently.

An apartment of one’s own and opportunities for participation

Mental health issues and substance abuse have increased considerably in recent years, and the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to only aggravate these problems. Tampere and the entire Pirkanmaa region are in dire need of more supported accommodation. In addition to new homes, the new unit will create new jobs and improve the use of existing facilities.

“The need is definitely there! When one resident is moving out, a new one is always moving in. We receive regular inquiries about vacant apartments. Thanks to the new building, we can take on new staff and boost the efficiency of our existing services. It will double our staff and allow us to increase staff time with residents and offer more group activities at the activity centre”, Hirvonen says.

In Nekala, construction work has progressed under lucky stars. The work has gone as planned and right on schedule – even the pandemic has not thrown a spanner in the works.

“Construction work began in late August, and the building has now reached its rooftop height. After the elements have dried off, next up will be the interior. So things are looking good, and the building should be completed in October or November this year”, says Hirvonen contentedly.

The activity centre located next to the new apartments will offer residents various activities. For this reason, most of the new building is dedicated to apartments, and common facilities are limited.

“In addition to apartments, the building will have one communal room and a laundry. Residents can go next door to the activity centre to see other people, grab coffee, read the papers, have lunch or take part in group activities. Saunas are also available next door”, Hirvonen lists.

As the construction work proceeds, the apartments are also beginning to take shape. Hirvonen is very pleased about the new homes. The new building includes many modern solutions and choices that improve the quality of living.

“All the homes will be a nice size, over 30 square metres each. The apartments will have an open-plan kitchen and living room with a dishwasher as well as an alcove or a small bedroom. Large windows make the homes nice and bright. On the apartments overlooking the lake, the view is naturally a nice bonus. The building will be entirely accessible, ensuring easy access with a wheelchair or walker. Modern electric locks also make life easier”, Hirvonen elaborates.

Social finance

MuniFin’s social finance is granted to investments that produce widespread social benefits. Social finance projects impact their surroundings and communities in a positive way: they promote equality, communality, welfare or regional vitality.

Social bonds

Written by Joonas Holste

Virtual photo and work site photo by Mielen Association

Maarit Hirvonen’s photo by Anna-Stiina Saarinen

Even the stairway is a teaching facility at the Language Immersion School

In the autumn of 2020, after eight years of waiting, the Jakobstad Language Immersion School moved into new premises. The old building was abandoned due to indoor air problems, and the temporary premises also had some issues with air quality. The relocation process was long but well worth the wait, as the new building meets the demands of the developments that have taken place in teaching methods in the past eight years. The Language Immersion School now offers a taste of the future of education.

“Special attention has been paid to ventilation, acoustics and space design. The new building is really beautiful and cosy”, Hellstrand notes happily.

Classes in the second official language

Kristiina Hellstrand has been the principal of the Language Immersion School since its beginning.

With about 400 pupils, the Language Immersion School is the largest primary school in Jakobstad. In the bilingual town of Jakobstad, language immersion means that pupils who speak Finnish as their first language study in Finland’s second official language, Swedish, and vice versa. At the beginning of their school journey, pupils study exclusively in their second language, with the role of the first language increasing during the following years. The school follows the national curriculum: the only difference is the language.

The city has offered language immersion education since 1993. The concept landed in Finland a few years earlier from Canada, and Hellstrand was immediately inspired by it.

“When the city was looking for its first language immersion teachers, I signed up right away. That was almost 30 years ago, and I’m still happy with my decision.”

In 2003, the city founded a dedicated language immersion school, which is still one of a kind in Finland. Hellstrand has been the school’s principal from day one.

“At first, the Swedish-speaking kids were in one school and the Finnish-speaking kids in another. I cycled between the two schools, feeling like I was a language immersion school on wheels”, Hellstrand says with a chuckle.

Later on, mainstream education pupils were relocated to other primary schools, and the language immersion groups moved under one roof. The Language Immersion School has since operated in a hundred-year-old school building, in an old secondary school and in the premises of a business school, before finally moving into its own purpose-built facilities.

No school desks, no classrooms

Jan Levander says the choice of materials plays an important role in open school spaces.

The new building is impressive. Large windows let light in to spacious lobbies, and the hallways are decorated with pleasant earthy colours, soft surfaces and green elements. On the outside, the building’s most striking quality is its exterior wall material, which is taking on the colour of rust. But there’s no need to worry, assures Jan Levander, director of education and culture in Jakobstad.

“It will take about two years for the walls to get their final pigment, so I shouldn’t pass my judgment yet. But I think it already looks nice.”

The irregularly shaped two-storey building has been carefully designed. As part of the planning process, Levander and Hellstrand took part in the Nova Schola programme by the Finnish Consulting Group, in which participants got to know new types of learning environments all over Finland. The city’s construction manager and the school project’s lead architect also participated.

Hellstrand says that they visited five or six schools during two years. “At the visits, we understood how important acoustics are. Many think that open school spaces as restless and noisy, but with the right materials and good design, they’re anything but”, she remarks.

Inspiration from the tour shows in the Language Immersion School, which is Jakobstad’s first open learning environment. The school does not have any traditional classrooms. Instead, all learning spaces are used for teaching as needed. Some rooms have movable walls and curtains to divide the space. All parts of the building are designed for educational use: even the staircase can serve as an auditorium.

“The staircase has a high-quality sound system, a large screen and room for a large number of pupils”, says Levander.

According to Hellstrand, children have been quick to adopt the open environment, but the teachers have needed more time to adjust. There are no school desks: pupils sit on couches, around larger tables or on chairs – and sometimes on the floor.

“For us teachers, it takes some getting used to if a pupil is spinning on a chair or sitting on the floor. It can feel like the situation is not fully under our control. But if the pupils say it makes it easier for them to concentrate, does it make sense to force them to sit still? After all, adults are also allowed to move when we are attending a lecture or a presentation”, Hellstrand explains.

The hallways have an earthy colour scheme.

Quiet corners are excellent for calm and concentrated work.

A series of large projects financed with real estate leasing

The school network in Jakobstad is undergoing major changes. After the Language Immersion School, the Oxhamn School, a Swedish-language secondary school, will be the next to have new facilities. A new primary school is also being planned, pending the municipal council’s decision.

“After these projects, the school network should be set for at least ten years”, Levander observes.

The Language Immersion School, the Oxhamn School and the day-care centre Alma, which was completed in 2020 and serves almost 200 children, are all financed with MuniFin’s real estate leasing.

“Leasing is a flexible option for large projects. Population is currently declining in Jakobstad, making it difficult to estimate what the value of these properties will be after 15 or 20 years. Leasing gives us more security in this regard”, Levander continues.

The Oxhamn School, which will be completed late this year, will also have many open spaces, but it will not be a completely open learning environment. Levander explains that it will fall somewhere between a traditional school and the open learning environment of the Language Immersion School – for example, there will be more spaces for subject-specific instruction.

The concept of a classroom has remained virtually unchanged for a long time. But according to Hellstrand, schools must keep up with the times. New ways of learning require new learning environments.

“After all, we are preparing children for the future, not for the past”, she concludes.

Text: Roope Huotari
Images: interviewees

Farewell to peat – Seinäjoen Energia on the fast track to carbon neutrality

The city had been deliberating on different power plant solutions for a long time. The city’s district heating was dependent on a single power plant and peat as fuel. Peat has become more and more expensive, which has caused upward pressure on the prices of district heating. This made it necessary to look into new alternatives.

Different kinds of waste incinerators and bigger power plant solutions were compared. In 2018, the decision was made to decentralise production to several smaller facilities instead of one large facility. A biofuel plant that will produce heat for half the city will begin its trial runs in autumn 2022. The plant was funded with MuniFin’s green finance.

“We decided not to put all our eggs in one basket. The new facility will secure the reliable production of renewable energy but will also leave room for other solutions”, says Mikko Mursula, head of district heating unit at Seinäjoen Energia.

The company updated its strategy a year after deciding on the decentralisation of production. This included setting the strategic goal of carbon neutrality by 2030.

“Until then, we did not have any concrete steps laid out ahead besides the new Kapernaum heat plant, nor did we have a clear timetable for the reduction of peat use”, Mursula says.

The fuel used in the new Kapernaum heat plant comes from different kinds of sawmill and forest felling by-products such as tree bark, sawdust and forest chips. What sets the plant aside from the rest is that it can utilise even very moist wood – the wood that is burned can have a moisture content of up to 65 per cent. There is no need to dry out the wood in piles when even freshly felled wood burns efficiently in the incinerators of the facility. The heat from flue gases is also recovered.

“While it’s not a new innovation in the industry, we are implementing flue gas heat recovery for the first time. Using modern technology, our plant now puts out 40-degree flue gas instead of the previous 150 degrees.”

An investment of more than EUR 30 million, the boiler project also includes the already completed fuel reception and processing systems. It also serves the old peat boiler.

“The new logistics already began to generate savings last summer when we started burning wood instead of peat in the old boiler.”

Heat pumps in a key role

The new heat boiler is not the only thing moving Seinäjoen Energia closer to carbon neutrality. A new auxiliary plant in Hanneksenrinne which uses pellets instead of oil was completed in 2020. In the near future, total investments will reach about EUR 60 million. It is estimated that carbon dioxide emissions will drop from the nearly 660,000 tonnes in 2018 to below 14,000 tonnes by 2023. For customers, the investments mean steadily priced and clean renewable energy.

“We have mapped out the options and aim to increase everything else except combustion-based production. Even CO2-free combustion may be unacceptable in energy production in the future”, Mursula ponders.

A new data centre being built in Seinäjoki will produce about 10 per cent of the city’s district heat supply. This is roughly equivalent to the annual demand of all the city’s single-family houses. If all goes as planned, the data centre can eventually produce heat for one third of Seinäjoki. Seinäjoen Energia has been involved in the project over the last few years.

“The data centre is designed to operate on renewable power. The heat of the data centre is recovered with heat pumps and transferred to the district heating water. Green electricity in, green heat out”, Mursula describes.

Heat pumps have an even bigger role in Seinäjoen Energia’s work towards carbon neutrality. Heat recovery and the more extensive utilisation of waste heat are being canvassed. Wastewater heat recovery could provide as much as 10 per cent of the city’s energy demand in the future. A project by EPV Energy involving the construction of a new district heating battery and electric boiler in connection to the Seinäjoki power plant is due for completion in 2022. EPV also provides wind energy for Seinäjoen Energia.

“The energy sector and the electricity market are undergoing quite an upheaval. Wind energy production is growing. Sometimes there is an oversupply of electricity, sometimes the supply does not meet the demand. On freezing winter days, the energy demand in Seinäjoki can double. The district heating battery enables us to store energy when there is excess supply”, Mursula explains.

The Government’s aid and taxation policy encourages businesses to make the green transition and heat pump investments.

“There has been uncertainty regarding the viability of heat pump investments. Investment aid speeds up investments and reduces the related risks. At the moment, investments are very profitable also due to the low interest rates”, Mursula adds.

Text: Hannele Borra

Photos: Seinäjoen Energia

Wood or concrete? TVT compares the environmental effects of construction materials

Two identical-looking buildings are rising in Arola, Turku. This time, however, looks are deceiving: one building is made of wood and the other of concrete. They are built in a project comparing the environmental effects of construction materials. The project is managed by TVT Asunnot, a housing provider owned by the City of Turku. 

“The city aims to be carbon neutral by 2029, and this is one of our ways to contribute towards that goal. As a company with social relevance, we have an opportunity to experiment”, says Johannes Malmi, development director at TVT. 

Using wood for construction is nothing new, but this is the first wooden apartment building built by TVT.  

Johannes Malmi, development director at TVT, is happy the project is advancing according to the plans.

“We have nearly 500 apartments in old wooden buildings, built in urban areas in the early 1900s. Wood is a very common construction material, but other materials have been more popular in large buildings in recent decades”, notes Teppo Forss, CEO at TVT. 

The project to construct the seemingly identical but internally different buildings was initiated three years ago. The work has progressed according to schedule, and residents should be able to move in at the end of this year. The traditional celebration marking the completion of the roof was held this May, although only in a small way due to the still ongoing coronavirus pandemic.  

At the moment, the wooden construction has progressed slightly further than the concrete one, and the construction sites look different because the wood frame is built under a weather cover to protect it from rain.  

“If you hear music blasting from under the cover system, that’s just the builders in their natural habitat”, Malmi chuckles, also noting that the wooden construction is looking very nice and convincing so far. 

The finished buildings will not only look very similar, but they will also have almost identical floor plans. The wooden building uses cross-laminated timber, and only a very keen eye can see that it has slightly larger outer dimensions for technical reasons. The design and type of structure of the buildings, however, is entirely different, resulting in different acoustics and fire safety solutions, for example. 

“We left some wooden parts visible as a visual element, especially in the walls that have windows. We would have liked to leave even more, but couldn’t because of fire safety reasons. We also used some concrete as a visual element in the concrete building”, Forss explains. 

Learning from other projects 

The two buildings are monitored in many ways. Their construction waste is known by the kilogram, their carbon footprint and handprint are calculated carefully, and their energy use is measured and compared. Resident surveys will be conducted frequently, for example to find out how residents experience the sounds and acoustics in the buildings. Malmi is also looking forward to finding out if one of the buildings will prove more popular in residential applications. 

Proven materials and construction practices that have been tried and tested are used in the project, says Teppo Forss, CEO at TVT.

According to Malmi, neither of the two different construction materials required any significant compromises, but the wooden building was somewhat more expensive to construct. 

“Unlike in concrete construction, ready-made packages are not available for large timber construction, so orders have to be customised individually. Volumes are also smaller and suppliers don’t have as much competition as there perhaps ought to be. This makes wooden construction more costly”, Malmi summarises.  

Before initiating the project, TVT studied a similar project by A-Kruunu, including their environmental calculations.

“We had access to this information from an excellent Finnish example that we could make use of. We developed our carbon footprint calculations and added resident satisfaction as a measured goal based on A-Kruunu’s project”, Forss reports.  

Forss and Malmi agree that the project was a learning experience that will likely yield rewards long after the construction phase. They are eager to share their experiences and have received inquiries also from outside Finland.  

“Better homes, one building at a time” 

So far, TVT’s experience in constructing a wooden apartment building has been a positive one, and worth considering in the future, too. 

“Unfortunately, urban planning prohibits wooden apartment buildings in many areas in Turku. Even this project required changes to town plans. It seems that urban planning follows changes in regulation very slowly and does not encourage experimenting”, Malmi comments. 

Forss emphasises that non-profit companies must build long-lasting homes that are safe and healthy to live in. He has a neutral approach towards the construction materials: “It is important for us to use proven materials and construction practices that have been tried and tested. Experiments must therefore be kept limited in number, but when the construction volume is large and there is a high level of know-how involved, the experiments tend to be successful.” 

This experiment in wooden construction is one of TVT’s steps towards carbon neutrality, and the company also watches the development of the concrete industry closely. TVT implements numerous sustainability measures throughout the building’s entire lifecycle, from land acquisition and construction to habitation and renovation. Residents are encouraged to take climate action through waste, heat and water consumption practices. 

In addition to environmental measures, affordability is another major point of consideration. Many rental apartments have recently been built in Turku and many more are planned, but housing is nevertheless becoming more and more expensive, which is a worrying trend. 

“Every sector of the city should give thought to how we could make housing more affordable. The process from town plans to finished apartments is a long one, and costs can be affected throughout the entire process. It is our own city that we’re building, and we should remember that”, Malmi states. 

“It is important for us to make apartments that the residents can afford and enjoy. In the best case, we can do so while also developing methods that have wider social benefits. We are building better homes, one building at a time”, Forss concludes. 

Carbon footprint 

Carbon footprint refers to carbon dioxide emissions caused by human activity. In most cases, it is reported in carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), which also accounts for other significant greenhouse gases, most importantly methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). 

Carbon hand print

Carbon handprint describes the climate benefits of a product, process or service. Anyone can create a carbon handprint – a state, a company, an association or an individual. For example, when a company generates a carbon handprint for its customer, the customer can reduce their own carbon footprint. 

In addition to developing their own operations, companies can improve their carbon handprint by actively introducing to the market new innovations, products, solutions or services that generate positive environmental impacts during their use. Many solutions of circular economy produce their customers a carbon handprint when compared to a similar, more conventional solution. The carbon handprint highlights the positive future effects on emissions, whereas the carbon footprint focuses on the negative effects on emissions. 

Written by Hannele Borra
Photos by TVT Asunnot