Growing demand for climate-friendly construction: could wood architecture become one of Finland’s exports?

The Wood Wonders exhibition to be opened at Helsinki Airport on the 5th of February will show passengers the innovations related to wood construction and display the sector’s latest developments.
Luukku House was designed to have a low carbon footprint. Photo by Anne Kinnunen
Aalto University's Luukku House was designed to have a nearly zero carbon footprint. Photo by Anne Kinnunen

When flying over Finland, it’s impossible to miss just how much forest there is. Wood, or as Finns call it, ‘green gold’, can be processed into pulp, paper, building materials and various other products.

With the help of research and the latest production technologies, amazing new properties are continually being found in wood, wood fibre and the fibre binder, lignin. This means that wood-based products can be used to replace plastics, adhesives, solvents and many other environmentally harmful products.

The Wood Wonders exhibition, organised by Aalto University, will present the possibilities of wood as a building material, and the latest developments in wood research. The exhibition is part of the long-term cooperation between Aalto University and the airport operator Finavia.

Wood-based wonders are urgently needed - According to the United Nations Environment Programme, the buildings and construction sector account for 36% of final energy use and 39% of energy and process-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2018, 11% of which resulted from manufacturing building materials and products such as steel, cement and glass.

Kokoon is a portable, prefabricated wooden house prototype. Photo: Anne Kinnunen
Kokoon is a portable, prefabricated wooden house prototype that can go up in less than a day. Photo Anne Kinnunen

Wood is a sustainable building material 

Wood is a durable, pleasant, and naturally luxurious material and its benefits in construction are being rediscovered.

During the first wave of urbanisation, concrete was seen as a superior building material and replaced wood in many applications. Since the 1960s, concrete element technology has been used to quickly and efficiently build large buildings and suburbs. 

However, in this century, the properties of wood have been modified chemically and mechanically to make products stronger, more uniform, and more resistant to fire and water, so the renewable nature of wood makes it an attractive building material. 

Wood is also a beautiful material that absorbs moisture and improves indoor air quality. Interior wood cladding makes spaces feel warmer and reduces the need for heating. There’s also the simple fact that wooden environments and houses give a feeling of cosiness.

Sustainably used wood stores carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for a long period of time. Wood is also being used to develop new bio-based and environmentally friendly products. In addition to developing new products and modifying the properties of wood, the life-cycle of the building’s carbon and material footprints should be optimised, and this could already be addressed in design-phase.

Wood construction on the rise

If ‘wood architecture’ only makes you think of a traditional wooden house or a modest summer cottage, the Wood Wonders exhibition will broaden your horizons.

Wood is increasingly being used as a construction material, and the size of wooden buildings is growing. This means that know-how will also increase, leading to reduced costs, and the development of new materials. The highest wooden building in Finland, a 14-storey student dwelling in Joensuu, was completed this year and the tallest wooden structure in the world - an 85-metre, 18-storey building with apartments, offices and a hotel, was also completed this year in Norway.

Oodi library in Helsinki. Photo by Aleksi Poutanen
Oodi library is an acknowledged wood architecture masterpiece in Helsinki. Aalto University's experts participated on the research of cladding. Photo by Aleksi Poutanen

Wood works wonders.

The Finnish public sector is a pioneer in wood construction; Hundreds of schools and day-care centres have been made of wood, and Helsinki Central Library Oodi and the renovated Helsinki Olympic Stadium are great examples of how wood can be used effectively. Several pioneering global companies have also started investing in wood architecture. 

For wood construction to gain a more rapid foothold, expertise, research and development are needed and new operating models and technologies will be necessary to take the sector forward. From developers to financiers, builders to building inspectors and from architects to insurance companies and users, wood construction will require new expertise and open-mindedness. 

We welcome you to explore the amazing world of wood construction.

The Wood Wonders exhibition showcases the versatility of wood construction and presents new ideas from the industry. It has been designed by a multidisciplinary team with members from three of the Aalto schools. The exhibition will open on 5 February 2020, and it will be on display until the beginning of 2021. The Finnish Ministry of the Environment has supported the preparation of the exhibition.

Finavia’s Art Port concept offers passengers positive surprises. The exhibitions are part of the long-term cooperation between Aalto University and the airport operator Finavia.

Chiao-Wen Hsu: Eaten Water Photo Anne Kinnunen

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