School of Arts, Design and Architecture

Sustainable construction bolstered by Aalto University Summer School learnings

Aalto University's Climate Change, Health and Architecture summer course provided architect Mirkka Rekola with new perspectives on the impacts of climate change on the built environment and health.
Arkkitehti Mirkka Rekola sai kesäkurssilta työhönsä uutta näkökulmaa ilmastonmuutoksen vaikutuksista
Photo: Sami Piskonen

Mirkka Rekola is a sustainable building expert at Senate Properties (Senaatti-kiinteistöt), the work environment partner of the Finnish government. She works on developing processes and guidelines on how to take environmental factors into account in construction projects.

The construction industry is undergoing a major change: working methods, processes and calculation targets need to be redefined. Carbon footprint calculations and limit values will become part of building permits in Finland by 2025.

Senate Properties is also aiming to reduce emissions in all its construction projects.

‘Achieving carbon neutrality and combating climate change are at the top of our agenda and are central to my own work’, says Rekola. 

Construction consumes a lot of materials and buildings consume a lot of energy, so their impact on carbon emissions is high. Rekola is working with construction experts to find ways to make renovation and construction as sustainable as possible.

‘There are various possibilities, such as solutions based on renewable energy and new energy solutions, low-emission materials, the circular economy and recycling of waste materials. We are actively looking for solutions to these.’

Lectures and discussions made me realise the many ways in which climate change will affect everyone's lives and health."

Architect Mirkka Rekola, Senate Properties

Change is a shared goal

Rekola saw an online advertisement for Aalto University's Climate Change, Health and Architecture summer course last spring and decided to participate. She wanted to get new perspectives on her work, and the summer course seemed like a refreshing idea and easy to do while working.

The course is a future oriented introduction to climate change and how it relates to human activity, the built environment and health.

‘I gained new knowledge from the course and a more human-centred perspective on the subject. The lectures and discussions also made me realise the many ways in which climate change will directly or indirectly affect everyone's lives and health.’

The courseworks had to be actively related to the battle against climate change and have a health-promoting aspect. The participants sparred their individual courseworks with course mates and although the work itself was very independent, the discussions opened up new perspectives and ideas.

‘The course was very interactive and we learned a lot from each other. The international nature of the group also made it clear that we may all have different starting points and need different measures, but we are all working towards the same goal. I gained a lot of new ideas.’

Training and raising climate awareness

Rekola's coursework included a presentation to Senate Properties on a coaching programme for construction projects, focusing on climate measures and the health impacts of construction. According to the course leader, architect Laura Arpiainen, the work was clear, realistic and feasible.

‘During the summer course, I developed a concept to support construction projects in the Senate Properties – that's what my work is mainly about. We produce guidelines for designers and developers, inform and train our experts. We promote approaches for assessing the climate and health impacts of projects’, Rekola explains.

Her course work was about a way of working to educate and sensitise people in the early stages of projects about what can be done to adapt to climate change and its health impacts.

The idea Rekola developed on the summer course has, in the first phase, taken shape in Senate Properties as coaching clinics: there are one-hour sessions for staff, where experts are offered presentations on climate and health issues and the opportunity to ask questions and seek advice on their own construction projects. A more ambitious “Climate Accelerator” project is also under planning, which will bring together the company's different areas of environmental, climate and health impact in a comprehensive way.

‘We are working on a project-based platform for development projects that will address the different themes. The aim is also to develop project coaching further within this framework’, says Rekola.

The construction sector transforms towards low carbon

According to Rekola, the state of will in Senate Properties is clear: the pursuit of carbon neutrality is a clear strategic goal and work towards it is systematic. The company has set concrete numerical emission reduction targets for its renovation and new construction projects worth over EUR 2 million. Guidelines on how to reduce the carbon footprint of construction projects were also introduced last year. The aim is to make the carbon footprint a standard practice in all projects.

It is already widely understood that change is coming and is necessary. The key challenge, according to Rekola, is to understand the holistic nature of the change: carbon neutrality becomes the starting point for everything we do and build. Mirkka Rekola believes it is important to have the same understanding of the impact of different measures for everyone.

‘We also need to weigh up the need for construction and space with our customers –

that's where the big potential lies. Do we need all that building, or can we come up with other solutions so that we don't have to build anything new? We need to constantly assess where we are going towards low carbon and how we can make significant changes quickly.’


Mirkka Rekola, Adviser, Sustainability and BIM, Senate Properties, [email protected], +358 40 059 1867

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