Sustainability in the planning of urban courtyards : case: Varma, new properties in Helsinki

Is it possible to design a sustainable courtyard and what are the principles of the concept? How can we improve Varma´s planning process to be more sustainable? These were some of the questions the author had to take into consideration in the thesis.

The concept of sustainable development has been used over 30 years but a clear picture of its origin is often lost. The author did not know the complexity of the concept at the beginning, nor did the architects who were interviewed as part of this thesis. Moreover, the planning process of Varma did not contain sustainable aspects. In this press release, the author briefly describes the work of the architects planning urban courtyards for Varma. At the same time, the author clarifies some of the aspects of sustainability that should be taken into consideration.

When Varma gives a design assignment to an architect, it contains a description of the character, scope, and objective of the project as well as a more precise list of tasks. The architect has to follow the instructions of the local detailed plan and the design guidelines of the area. They both include a strong pursuit of sustainability just as the National Land Use Guidance which they also follow. The principles of sustainable development comply with the Finnish legislation and the Finnish national sustainable development work is forced by, inter alia, the United Nations and the European Union. In theory, it can be thought that if an architect plans yards according to all these instructions and statutory laws, the plans will automatically be sustainable.

The architects used by Varma had an overall knowledge of sustainability but the detailed facts were missing and this clearly came up in the interviews.  They tend to take into account sustainability by choosing durable materials and, for example, natural stones when it is possible. They also mentioned the longevity of materials, aesthetical issues, and easy maintenance as part of the concept of sustainability.

One thing that appeared was that the architects did not have a possibility to take into account the wishes of the future residents although participatory planning is one of the main elements of sustainability. Another alarming matter was that the yards are planned in the last phase of the planning process and the construction manager of Varma does not meet the yard planners during the process. It is very challenging to introduce any new ideas or technical solutions at the end of the whole planning process.

Is there anything that we could do better? Yes there is.  All yards, technical solutions, and implementations, which are included in the property layout, should be brought to the design table when deciding on the solutions regarding the entire property. The yard planning should be raised at the same level with the other parts of the planning instead of the last phase and various climate change adaptation methods should be taken into account in the yard planning. In the future, the author would like to see that the yard is no longer just a yard but part of the whole planning. Green roofs, green walls, and proper storm water management should be included in the design and new technologies should be utilized open-mindedly. The participatory planning should also be included in the yard planning. Varma could act as a pioneer in this. A broad understanding of sustainability and taking it into consideration in the planning is not only the responsibility of the architects; it requires sincere cooperation between various parties.

Teksti: Minna Vierula ja Eeva Aarrevaara