Development project for the Peltosaari district of Riihimäki attracts interest at home and abroad

The renovation to a passive level of the Innova apartment block in the Peltosaari district of Riihimäki with prefabricated passive wooden façade elements has been completed. In the opinion of Seppo Keskiruokanen, Mayor of Riihimäki, the Peltosaari project has become a nationally significant suburban development project, the experiences of which can also be transferred to the renovation and development of other suburban neighbourhoods. ”The renovation of this block of rental apartments to a passive level using the TES (timber-based element system) method attracted organisations developing energy-efficient construction. The TES method is new and so attracted a great amount of interest amongst professionals in the field, both at home and abroad,” says Keskiruokanen.

The manager of the Peltosaari project, Irene Väkevä-Harjula, believes that the development of the TES method will further increase interest in the refurbishment of suburban neighbourhoods and that reproduction of the method will be suitable for the large-scale modernisation of these areas. ”The renovation of the Innova building was launched at the same time as an ideas competition for Peltosaari. The publicity received by the Innova building was also a help to the ideas competition, for which we received 61 very good entries.”

The repair and renovation project for Peltosaari’s Innova building was carried out through funding provided by the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation (Tekes), the Housing Finance and Development Centre of Finland (ARA), the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, Riihimäen Kotikulma and the companies involved in the project. The aim of the project is to develop an industrial-scale method and structural solutions to renovate old apartment blocks so that they will function on a passive level. The aim of the TES method is to develop a method of facade wall repair for buildings, based on large prefabricated wooden-framed elements.

”The development of Peltosaari’s residential district can be a model for others,” says Mayor of Riihimäki, Seppo Keskiruokanen. ”Peltosaari is being developed by means of three strategic points: by renewing and building ecologically and energy-efficiently and by activating residents to develop their own living area. The extensiveness and diversity of the project are aiming to solve suburban problems, not merely to treat the symptoms. The residents are learning to respect their modernised, well-renowned, attractive neighbourhoods in a new way. This respect is also reflected in a positive way in the district through the solution of other problems typical of suburbs. The development of suburbs is a challenge for all towns and cities in Finland. We have many satellite suburbs mainly containing rental housing and a challenging population structure, the development of which requires not only the renovation of housing but also other diverse actions.”

The renovation of Peltosaari significantly increasing the value of the district

In Keskiruokanen’s opinion, during the extensive development project, Peltosaari has grown into a nationally significant suburban development project. ”The work on the Innova building attracted organisations developing energy-efficient construction, such as the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, Tekes, ARA and Sitra, all of which have great interest in the promotion of energy-efficient construction. The TES method used to carry out the renovation was new to Finland, and so attracted a great amount of interest, both at home and abroad. The progress of the project was followed by many groups of visitors from Finland, Sweden and Russia.”

Keskiruokanen sees the TES method as a new innovation, which will add to the volume of wood construction, both in new construction and in the growing amount of repair and renovation work. ”The method will certainly promote the breakthrough of wood construction, both in new and repair construction. Key to this is the introduction of industrial production logic to the field of construction. Wooden elements are large, industrially prefabricated components, which naturally suit concrete-framed apartment blocks that are being renovated. Peltosaari’s experiences will certainly also increase the interest of builders, who have taken a critical view of wood construction, in the wider use of wood in apartment block construction,” predicts Keskiruokanen.

”Our aim is for the experiences of Peltosaari to bring about the further genuine development of systematisation in repair construction, and for major building corporations to take a real interest in repair and renovation work,” says Keskiruokanen. ”The renovation of the building stock of 1970s concrete apartment blocks is a major challenge everywhere in Finland, and so is an important economic problem that must be solved. The most important things for the residents are an improvement in living comfort and an increase in the value of their homes. It is estimated that the value of properties in Peltosaari has risen by about €100 million as a result of this major renovation work. It is now worthwhile for both the public and private sectors to invest in repair and renovation construction.”

”Light wooden structures not only increase the energy efficiency of old buildings but also give them a fresh new look. Wooden structures enable the construction of additional storeys and the creation of varied façades for 1970s concrete-framed buildings, whose high walls are not load-bearing, so through thorough renovation they can be completely renewed, if desired.”

The Innova house and Peltosaari projects improving the public image of the area

According to Irene Väkevä-Harjula, manager of the Peltosaari project, the aim is to increase the appreciation and attraction of the district, through the renewal and development of Peltosaari. ”We want to improve comfort for the residents, the feeling of safety and security, the ease of everyday life and the general look of the district. We want to make it a part of the central structure of the town and to carry all this out with an emphasis on environmental values. We are trying to get the residents involved and to get them to commit to the renovation work by developing resident activity, and by maintaining buildings and their surroundings,” says Väkevä-Harjula.

”It is already evident how the favourable publicity received by the Peltosaari project has strengthened the positive profile of the district. In our vision, Peltosaari is an attractive residential district for families with children, students, senior citizens and single people. Our aim is to make Peltosaari into an eco-efficient pilot scheme for a new kind of ecological urban living, and an example of a smart built environment in Finland.” 

Renovation of buildings motivates residents to develop their neighbourhoods

Pekka Lähde, a pensioner who lives in the Innova building, is satisfied with the end-result of the project, even though living in the building during the renovation work brought some surprises. ”Building site logistics did not go as it does in the movies,” says Lähde. According to Lähde, however, from the residents' point of view, living in the building while it was being renovated was a better solution that finding temporary accommodation elsewhere. ”It was better, although the promised timetable was not kept. The repair project should have been completed in December, but it was about six months late. Adjustments to the air-conditioning are still being done. For the residents, a big problem was that it was difficult to communicate with the building workers from the Baltic states and Poland, who were used to constructing new buildings, not installing prefabricated elements. This is now a new construction culture, and builders too need to learn about it.”

Lähde considers that the work should have started in spring, when problems brought by the cold winter could have been avoided. ”This repair method is fine, but its implementation in new places should be planned better as a whole, and better account needs to be taken of the residents living in the building. The best thing about the end-result is the new look of the building and the improvement in sound insulation. The noise from the street has been completely eliminated. If energy savings are also achieved through the renovation, I would hope to see this reflected in the price of rents. When buildings have been renovated, it also gives residents motivation to get involved in the development of the area. More and more of these buildings should be repaired, rather than demolishing them,” suggests Lähde.

Renovation a part of the overall development of the neighbourhood            

”ARA, VTT and Tekes, which were involved in the development of Peltosaari, saw that the district’s eco-efficient renewal has great potential, through energy savings, the rise in the value of property and generally making the area a nice place to live,” says Väkevä-Harjula. ”The Ministry of the Environment and ARA are particularly interested in activating residents and preventing displacement. Tekes wants to develop suburban construction technology towards smart construction, and VTT wants to be involved in the promotion of energy- and eco-efficient construction. All these objectives are combined in Peltosaari in the same way as almost all Finnish suburbs.”

The portfolio of the Peltosaari project contains many development projects, and we are adding to it based on the achievement of strategy and targets. ”Based on the Peltosaari experiences, we are putting together a manual on the renewal of the living environment, funded by ARA. We want to use experiences gleaned from interviews with residents to study how to prevent a segregated living structure in the suburbs,” says Väkevä-Harjula. ”We aim to get a firm grip on the problems of the area, by promoting youth employment through the ‘Nuoret esiin’ (youth in action) project, by developing the area’s public services though networks, and by activating the people of Peltosaari to carry out voluntary environmental  work for their own district.

Puuinfo article service/Markku Laukkanen

More information:

Seppo Keskiruokanen, Mayor of Riihimäki, 040 330 4010, seppo.keskiruokanen@riihimaki.fi

Irene Väkevä-Harjula, Project Manager, 050 572 6510, irene.vakeva-harjula@riihimaki.fi