The City of Helsinki’s Housing Advice Service

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The City of Helsinki’s Housing Advice Service

Mismatches Segregation Vulnerable groups
Policies and regulations Local policies Governance Evictions
Financing

Main objectives of the project

The inception of Helsinki's Housing Advice Service in 2006 marked a proactive response to rising evictions, emphasizing prevention and collaborative efforts between social services and property companies. By addressing diverse challenges like rent arrears and mental health issues, the service aligns with national housing policies and underscores the importance of public support in preventing homelessness. With estimated savings of up to €20,000 per prevented eviction, the service demonstrates its cost-effectiveness and potential for adaptation in other countries.

Date

  • 2006: Implementation

Stakeholders

  • Helsinki City Hall
  • Heka

Location

Continent: Europe
City: Helsinki
Country/Region: Finland, Helsinki

Description

In 2008, the number of evictions in Helsinki skyrocketed. This prompted social services and property companies to advocate for a collaborative approach to combat homelessness, prevent evictions, and engage in practical social work. According to property companies, pressing issues in various districts of Helsinki included rent arrears, substance abuse, mental health challenges, poor flat maintenance, and cultural conflicts among residents.

This marked the inception of the Housing Advice Service in 2006, a structured housing social work initiative by the City of Helsinki aimed at preventing homelessness. Operating on client-focused strategies and local cooperation, the service emerged in response to mounting demands from social services and property companies. National objectives for the service were introduced in 2009, aligning it with government housing policies to mitigate long-term homelessness. Currently, Helsinki is drafting a homelessness action plan with a strong emphasis on prevention.

Holding onto a home is fundamental, underscoring the importance of organizing public services to offer adequate support to individuals at risk of homelessness. Preventing evictions not only addresses homelessness but also mitigates various health and social issues. Moreover is a huge save for the public budget. Acting on the consequences is way more expensive for the taxpayer money due to associate costs on health, shelters, etc. In Helsinki, the Housing Advice Service has prioritized collaboration with the largest property company, Heka, particularly regarding rent arrears and other housing challenges. It offers a multi-channel service, including office meetings, home visits, and consultations via telephone or email.

The service has expanded to include housing advisers, currently numbering 16, alongside the addition of a psychiatric nurse and a tenant mentor program for residents with migrant backgrounds. Digital services have been developed to cater to advice and guidance needs, complemented by financial and debt counseling for residents in debt. Operated under the City of Helsinki Social Service and Health Care Division, some personnel expenses are covered by Heka and the Housing Finance and Development Centre of Finland (ARA).

The estimated savings resulting from the service range from €5000 to €20,000 per prevented eviction, with the service deemed self-sustainable if it prevents at least 23 evictions annually, based on the minimum saving of €5000. Despite the immediate financial gains, the broader human impact and cumulative effects of preventing evictions are also significant considerations.

The efficacy of housing advice operations is evident in reducing rent arrears, lowering eviction rates, and enhancing the city's housing-related social work capacities. Standardized cooperation processes and swift interventions have decreased homelessness risks and yielded substantial public finance savings. Between 2009 and 2018, the service recorded a total of 62,153 client contacts.

The success of the housing advice service in Helsinki suggests its potential for adaptation and implementation in other countries, contingent upon adjustments to local operational environments, public administration structures, and financing mechanisms. Collaboration with third-sector operators specializing in homelessness issues is crucial for the initiative's success, as demonstrated by Helsinki's experience in addressing systemic changes related to social structures, segregation, and public administration.

Home Town Helsinki and the Hitas: Affordable housing in Helsinki

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Home Town Helsinki and the Hitas: Affordable housing in Helsinki

Mismatches Diversity
Policies and regulations Local policies Land
Promotion and production Public promotion Public-private partnerships
Ownership and tenure Shared ownership Protection of social housing

Main objectives of the project

Helsinki, Finland, boasts one of the largest inventories of public land in Europe, enabling the city to pursue an ambitious long-term strategy aimed at fostering affordable housing. The objective is to cultivate mixed neighborhoods, incorporating various housing typologies—whether ownership, market rental, or social housing—provided by the public sector. To achieve this goal, Helsinki is actively collaborating with the construction industry and introducing innovative regulations, including the revitalization of the Hitas system and the introduction of the "company share" model.

Date

  • 2016: Implementation

Stakeholders

  • Helsinki City Hall

Location

Continent: Europe
City: Helsinki
Country/Region: Finland, Helsinki

Description

In 2016, the City of Helsinki introduced the "Home Town Helsinki" long-term policy aimed at fostering a diverse mix of housing to cater to various needs and life circumstances. A central objective was to cultivate mixed-tenure neighborhoods throughout the city, setting targets for both rented and owned housing production in regulated and unregulated markets. Out of the 6,000 dwellings generated annually, 25 percent are subsidized and regulated rental housing, while 30 percent are unsubsidized but subject to regulated ownership, ensuring price and quality control. Helsinki's substantial public land ownership, coupled with conditional land leases, enables the city to pursue its ambitious goals of affordable and inclusive housing.

With ownership of 70 percent of its land area, Helsinki plays a significant role in providing and advocating for affordable housing. The city boasts a portfolio of 60,000 housing units, with 48,500 government-subsidized for rental purposes. Most new housing developments occur on city-owned property, with the municipality directly producing 1,500 dwellings annually, including 750 units of subsidized rental housing.

Housing transactions on city-owned land operate under the "company share" model, applicable to both owner-occupied and subsidized flats. Under this model, the exchange involves trading the company share rather than the title to the land and housing, a process managed by the city.

Helsinki employs a distinctive approach to ensure that middle-income families can afford to reside in all neighborhoods, including the priciest ones. This approach, known as the "Hitas" system, aims to reduce housing costs on publicly owned land. Hitas homes, typically priced below market rates, have an upper limit on selling prices. These homes are situated on rental plots owned by the city. The pricing of units is based on actual production costs, with maximum prices regulated by the city. The selling price is established when the plot is assigned for construction, and subsequent sales must not exceed this maximum price. Allocation of Hitas units is through a lottery system. While owners incur lower monthly costs, they also pay land rent fees. This scheme proves effective in areas where market costs surpass production expenses. For builders in Helsinki, developing Hitas units on public lands is the sole viable option, ensuring guaranteed sales despite lower profits due to high demand.

Homma Himaan- Homes That Work

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Homma Himaan- Homes That Work

Mismatches Vulnerable groups
Policies and regulations
Ownership and tenure

Main objectives of the project

Homma Himaan was a service that supports young people in finding a home and work in one ‘package’.

It gave 18–26-year-old adults the possibility of combining housing and part-time employment. Homma himaan worked via a digital apartment and job search platform.

Date

  • 2018: Implementation

Stakeholders

  • Nuorisosäätiö
  • Setlementtiasunnot
  • Y-Foundation
  • Helsinki Youth Department

Location

Continent: Europe
City: Helsinki
Country/Region: Finland, Helsinki

Description

Homma Himaan was a pilot program, closed in 2018. However, the results and the idea are fascinating due to their integration of youth policies, employment and housing. Provided you had entered the program, as a tenant you were offered a work and a house. The tenants received a salary for the work done for the good of the neighbourhood.

Tasks included, for instance, working as the property manager’s assistant, helping out elderly residents and developing the operations on shared premises. This allowed the residents to compensate part of their rent through work. The aim was to support the youth on their path to independence and at the same time create their own well-being within the residential community around them.

The initiative involved Helsinki Youth Department and social housing providers in Helsinki, such as Y-Foundation, Setlementtiasunnot, Nuorisosäätiö and Nuorisoasuntoliitto/NAL-Asunnot (and the aim is to further spread it across the country). Employee (that are also tenants) determines the working hours, depending on their needs. Yet, residents decide on the content of their work.

Serpentine House Refurbishment

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Serpentine House Refurbishment

Policies and regulations
Financing
Promotion and production
Ownership and tenure

Main objectives of the project

The Serpentine House is one of the best-known residential developments from the post-war years in Finland and listed by DOCOMOMO Finland as a significant example of modern architecture. The aim of the refurbishment project has been to preserve and enhance the building´s architectural values while solving multiple technical and functional issues.

Date

  • 2020: Construction

Stakeholders

  • Architect: Marica Schalin
  • Architect: Kristina Karlsson
  • Architect: Mona Schalin

Location

Continent: Europe
City: Helsinki
Country/Region: Finland

Description

The long, undulating, four storey tenant block, with its 189 rental flats, is situated on a hilly site at the edge of an garden city area. The courtyards have been redesigned preserving the sylvan character.

The flats consist mainly of two rooms, kitchenette and bathroom. They have been upgraded with special attention to bathrooms, fixtures and fittings. The original kitchen cabinets have been repaired when possible.

Common facilities have been refurbished.

The roof slab has been replaced by a ventilated construction. The exterior rough plastering and balconies with their delicate railings have been reconstructed. Windows and balcony doors have been repaired and any details in poor condition have been replaced. The original colour scheme has been reconstructed in collaboration with a conservator, applying traditional paint methods.
The long road from preliminary condition surveys to successful completion of construction can be seen as a didactic example of a process with many stakeholders involved. Not least because of the specific challenges concerning the conservation of modern architecture.

By 2010, the exterior and the dwellings had long suffered from lack of funding for maintenance. Rejecting the initial renovation programme, based on purely technical and functional priorities, the building permit authorities demanded focus on architectural values. Eventually, the Serpentine House, both buildings and site, were protected in a detailed town plan.

Since the protection had established strict boundaries for intervention, preserving the original architectural, spatial and material characteristics clearly emerged as an objective shared by the client, the authorities and the design team, even as the task was to solve serious technical and structural problems and introduce functional improvements.

The implementation was planned in two stages, the first stage serving as a test lab for the methods and practices during the four years of construction.
The main improvement issues have been the technical performance of the roof and the external walls, built of brick and Betocel blocks. The balconies from a time when steel was scarce, have been rebuilt. The ventilation duct system has been renovated.

The Serpentine House has received publicity as a model for sustainable renovation - the original wooden windows and kitchen cupboards have been repaired with carpenters´skills, the natural ventilation has been improved, the tenants have been able to return to their flats after the construction, the common facilities and the courtyards have been improved.

The future lifespan of the 70 years old buildings has now been secured. The lasting features are the loadbearing structure, the building envelope and the floor plan, while roofing, ventilation, plastered and painted surfaces, fixtures, cupboards, windows etc. will require maintenance according to an appropriate plan. Fortunately, Helsinki City Housing Company has an expertise in dealing with the maintenance of a huge amount of buildings from the 20th century.

Y-Foundation

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Y-Foundation

Mismatches Demographic/Urban growth
Policies and regulations Local policies
Promotion and production Innovation Site&services Progressive housing Management and maintenance
Ownership and tenure

Main objectives of the project

The Y-Foundation goal is to end homelessness in Finland. It aims to do this by increasing the amount of affordable rental housing made available to homeless people.
It builds, renovates and leases buildings in towns and cities across Finland. In 2016, Y-Foundation has total of 6,675 apartments and operate in 52 cities and municipalities. Homes are provided using the Housing First model through partnerships with municipalities and non-governmental organisations. Most of its homes are in central city locations. This enables residents to be close to work opportunities, amenities and support services. It also uses innovative designs and plans to support resident integration.

By building supportive networks and engaging local authorities and non-governmental organisations to develop services for homeless people Y-Foundation provides significant support to its tenants, but with the goal of enabling them to live independently. Its aim is that, by 2020, two-thirds of its tenants will be living independently without need for support.

Date

  • 2014:

Stakeholders

Location

Continent: Europe
City: Helsinki
Country/Region: Finland, Helsinki

Description

A social enterprise that specialises in housing homeless people; Y-Foundation has played a leading role in a policy that is on target to end long term homelessness in Finland. An early adopter of the Housing First model; Y Foundation is seen as a leading exponent of this approach to housing homeless people.

What are its aims and objectives?
The Y-Foundation goal is to end homelessness in Finland. It aims to do this by increasing the amount of affordable rental housing made available to homeless people.
It builds, renovates and leases buildings in towns and cities across Finland. Homes are provided using the Housing First model through partnerships with municipalities and non-governmental organisations. Most of its homes are in central city locations. This enables residents to be close to work opportunities, amenities and support services. It also uses innovative designs and plans to support resident integration.

By building supportive networks and engaging local authorities and non-governmental organisations to develop services for homeless people Y-Foundation provides significant support to its tenants, but with the goal of enabling them to live independently. Its aim is that, by 2020, two-thirds of its tenants will be living independently without need for support.

It shares information from its work externally and provides training to others. Y-Foundation has been successful in influencing homelessness policies and legislation at a national level.

What context does it operate in?

In the mid-1980s, when Y-Foundation started work, there were 20,000 single homeless people in Finland. According to national estimates this has now reduced to around 7,500. In 2012, the Finnish government launched a strategy to end long-term homelessness by 2015. If successful, (and indications are that it is on course) it would be the first country in the world to achieve this feat.

Finland was an early adopter of the Housing First approach, which seeks to house homeless people unconditionally in suitable housing first, rather than the previous staircase approach of hostels and dormitories.  In the past, housing provision for tackling homelessness was managed solely by the municipalities. This is not possible now because of reduced municipal resources and increasing demand on the existing housing stock.

The demand for low cost housing is highest in cities due to an increasing population. The foundation estimates that 12 per cent of the Finnish population are on low incomes; this alone creates a backlog of demand for 75,000 new apartments in Helsinki. According to national estimates 2,500 of the 7,500 single homeless people in the country are long-term homeless. An estimated 350 families are homeless at any one time. The work of Y-Foundation addresses all these problems, cooperates to develop support, raises awareness and works closely with the national and local governments.

What are its key features?

What makes Y-Foundation different is that it is effectively a housing association that specialises in housing homeless people and vulnerable groups. The trend for housing associations across Europe has been to diversify into offering housing to wider groups of people. Y-Foundation has remained focussed on its core objective and continued to provide homes for the most vulnerable groups of people in society.

Y-Foundation purchases housing units and lets them to its target groups through local authorities and local partners. The foundation traditionally arranged the housing and local partners nominated the tenants and support services. The foundation still does this but nowadays it also purchases housing units, renovates them and then lets and manages them directly.

Increasingly Y-Foundation promotes mixed housing schemes in its projects. The rents are kept lower than market price and are monitored through market surveys. As compared to the traditional model, in which homeless people are offered places in hostels and shelters, Y-Foundation offers rented accommodation and provides support services to help people become independent.

Y-Foundation operates as a non-profit making enterprise. It is a private company and reinvests its profits into its housing stock. By using state services for rehabilitation and a market approach, it combines the strengths of both systems.

How is it funded?

The main source of Y-Foundation’s income is from the rents. It also receives grants from RAY (Finland’s Slot Machine Association) and ARA, (the Housing Finance and Development Centre of Finland). The foundation also uses bank and other loans to invest in purchasing and building new housing. The rental income is used to cover the costs of running the organisation, repayment of loans and housing maintenance. The surplus is used for investment in buying new properties. Its business model provides significant surpluses, which are reinvested into new homes to enable the foundation to continue to grow. In 2013, it invested €12.7 million in buying and building new properties.

What impact has it had?

The work of Y-Foundation has made a significant and leading contribution to the goal of ending long-term homelessness in Finland. The aim of ending long-term homelessness is now close to being realised.

It has demonstrated a model through which housing and support for other aspects such as social work could be delivered by a social enterprise by efficient networking. The project has provided sustainable housing to 8,590 people, who now have a home of their own. Furthermore, the project has been able to engage local authorities and several non-governmental organisations in developing support work for their target groups.

Y-Foundation has a strategic goal that two third of its tenants will be living independently, without any support, by 2020.

The impact of the project is also about changing the attitude of Finnish society towards housing provision for homeless people and vulnerable groups. According to Y-Foundation, a number of private housing companies involved in construction are now trying to replicate Y-Foundation’s business model.

The Y-Foundation has grown significantly. It has expanded to 52 cities and municipalities in Finland, where it now holds 6,675 apartments.

There is a growing interest in the work of the foundation both nationally and internationally. Visitors have come from Sweden, Poland, Italy, France, Japan, South Korea, Uruguay, Chile, Argentina, Mexico, USA and Russia to learn about Y-Foundation’s approach.

Why is it innovative?

  • To demonstrate that a traditionally state-dependent service could run as a social enterprise, by providing quality services, making a profit and re-investing the profit in new projects. To provide rental housing and keeping the rents below market rates.
  • The Y-Foundation was an early adopter of the Housing First approach to resolving homelessness.
  • To provide a choice to homeless people for communal or independent housing.
  • Use of innovative design and construction methods, better use of space to support integration of homeless people and families.

What is the environmental impact?

Building regulations in Finland require a high degree of energy efficiency, with high levels of thermal insulation including, for example, triple glazed windows and the use of renewable energy. The foundation has gone beyond the building regulation requirements on some buildings by, for example, using geothermal heating systems. In addition, the foundation prioritises central locations, which reduce the cost of driving and increase access to public transport and reduce the need for parking spaces.

Is it financially sustainable?

The foundation has created a highly sustainable business model. The operating costs of the foundation are covered by the rental income. It generates good surpluses, which are reinvested enabling the foundation to build more homes and expand. It has received grants and soft loans from the Housing Finance and Development Centre of Finland (ARA), which have enabled further growth and service improvements. Evidence suggests that the foundation has achieved a good sustainable balance between borrowing, repayments and operational costs. With the current level of assets, the financial model of the foundation appears viable and sustainable.

What is the social impact?

The foundation has provided a secure home for thousands of vulnerable people allowing them to develop and grow as individuals. The services it provides have helped a large proportion of its tenants achieve independence.

Barriers

  • The prices of properties in metropolitan areas are going up, so buying is difficult and they have to compete with other investors.
  • The main challenge identified by the project is the prejudice and complaints from neighbours. This has delayed some projects. Y-Foundation believes that it is important to maintain good communication with the surrounding community and show them some completed projects to overcome prejudice.

Lessons Learned

  • Y-Foundation is an organisation with expertise in building and construction, operating as a social enterprise, focus on homelessness. Surveys from Y-Foundation suggest that other housing providers mainly target more economically active and physically able people, so Y-Foundation offers a service, which is much needed.
  • It is important to provide social housing in partnership with the providers of support services, such as social and health care workers.
  • A permanent home and secure tenure has a positive impact on people’s wellbeing. It is important to consider the needs of all the groups and develop a clear plan for their independence.

Evaluation

The grant providers monitor the spending and activities on specific projects. The last evaluation of Y-Foundation work was carried out in 1990. Regular monitoring of activities and finances is carried out. Y-Foundation has not carried out any evaluation of its work.

Transfer

The approach of Y-Foundation has been adopted by 52 cities and municipalities in Finland, where it now holds 6,675 apartments. The foundation is growing and expanding its work.

Locally: Y-Foundation started as a local programme but now it has scaled-up to a major national programme.

Nationally: It operates in 52 cities and municipalities.

Internationally: There has been significant international interest in the work of Y-Foundation. Visitors have come from a number of countries and the foundation has assisted in a project for young people leaving orphanages in Russia.

Authors:

Right of occupancy housing in Finland

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Right of occupancy housing in Finland

Policies and regulations
Financing
Promotion and production
Ownership and tenure

Main objectives of the project

Right-of-occupancy housing [1] is a mix of renting and homeownership. Under this model the occupier must first pay a right-of-occupancy payment, generally amounting to 15 per cent of the purchase price.

Date

Stakeholders

  • Promotor: Housing Finance and Development Centre of Finland (ARA)

Location

Continent: Europe
Country/Region: Finland

Description

This can be used as security for a mortgage and attracts mortgage interest tax relief. In addition, the residents also pay a monthly residence charge for their right to occupy the dwelling. Right-of-occupancy housing is also subject to a monthly residence charge to cover capital expenses and upkeep costs. The amount of the residence charge is based on the cost recovery principle and may not exceed the average market rents of similar dwellings in the same locality. Right of occupancy dwellings can never be bought outright but the occupier has the right to live there permanently.

There are restrictions on the resale of right of occupancy housing. These dwellings can only be sold to a buyer approved by the local municipality. When occupiers of a dwelling of this type decide to give up their right of occupancy, they receive a refund of their right-of-occupancy payment, plus an index increment corresponding to the change in the building cost index.

Anyone aged 18 or older may apply for a right-of-occupancy apartment. There are no income restrictions, but applicants cannot own another dwelling in the same region or have the funds to purchase one. This form of housing has been financed mainly with state-subsidized housing loans or interest subsidy loans.

Authors:

Puukuokka Housing Block (house 1)

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Puukuokka Housing Block (house 1)

Urban Design Environments Quality

Main objectives of the project

Puukuokka One is Finland's first eight-story wooden apartment building, showcasing modular prefabricated CLT construction for high-quality, environmentally responsible, and affordable housing. It has received accolades such as the Finlandia Prize for Architecture and Resident Act of the Year 2015. The complex consists of three 6-8-story buildings, with the first building completed and the others scheduled for construction in the next two years. Puukuokka aims to maximize the technical and aesthetic qualities of CLT while creating a distinct architectural expression. It pioneers a lease-to-own financing strategy to support social sustainability, allowing gradual ownership acquisition through rental payments over 20 years. The design combines the warmth and privacy of single-family dwellings with the semi-public nature of shared spaces in apartment buildings. The use of CLT enables a spacious and energy-efficient hallway and atrium space, independent temperature control in each unit, and integrated piping for maintenance. The construction time is reduced through prefabricated modules, which also allow for a fully wooden load-bearing structure. The complex is built on a concrete foundation, preserving the natural landscape and utilizing locally available and renewable wood as a low-emission and CO2 storage material.

Date

  • 2015: Construction

Stakeholders

  • Architect: OOPEAA Office for Peripheral Architecture

Location

Continent: Europe
City: Jyväskylä
Country/Region: Finland, Jyväskylä

Description

Puukuokka One is the first eight-story high wooden apartment building in Finland. It explores the potential of modular prefabricated CLT construction to meet the goal of providing high quality, environmentally responsible and affordable housing. It has won several prizes including Finlandia Prize for Architecture and Resident Act of the Year 2015.
The Puukuokka apartment complex is comprised of three 6-8-storey buildings. The first building in the Puukuokka complex is now complete and the other two buildings will be built over the next two years.

The goal was to find a solution that makes the best possible use of the technical and aesthetic qualities of CLT and to create a wooden building in large scale with a distinct architectonic expression of its own.

Puukuokka pilots an innovative lease-to-own financing strategy that aims to support social sustainability by promoting stable communities. A 7% down payment on the purchase price of an apartment allows the purchaser to secure a state guaranteed loan, and, through rental payments over a period of 20 years, the purchaser gradually acquires full ownership of the unit. The sales price is negotiated and agreed upon when the lease is signed.

The goal was to create a building that combines the sense of warmth and privacy of a single-family dwelling with the semi-public character of the shared spaces of an apartment building.The town plan has been tailored to meet the needs of the building complex making it possible to count only part of the shared spaces in the building volume and allowing an open and spacious feel in the shared spaces without compromising the amount of space offered in the individual units.

Puukuokka served as a pilot case to develop and test a CLT based system of volumetric modules. Working with CLT enabled several important aspects in the project: It made it possible to create a spacious hallway and atrium space with a lot of light realized in an energy efficient manner as a semi-warm space. The insulating qualities of massive wood allow for controlling the temperature of the individual units independently. The use of prefabricated volumetric CLT modules made it possible to integrate the piping for heat, water, electricity and ventilation in the wall structure in the hallway making it easily accessible for maintenance. This arrangement also allows for an efficient organization of the plan. The entire load bearing structure and frame is made of massive wood composed of prefabricated volumetric CLT modules made of spruce. Each apartment is made of two modules, one housing the living room, balcony and bedroom, the other the bathroom, kitchen and foyer.

The use of prefabricated modules made it possible to cut the construction time on site down to six months and to reduce the exposure to weather conditions. That made it possible to achieve a higher quality in the end result. Working with CLTmade it possible to create a building with a primary load bearing structure and frame fully made of wood. The modules are prefabricated in a local factory in Hartola less than two hours away from the site.

The complex is built on a concrete foundation with indoor parking spaces on the basement level. To preserve the naturally hilly landscape of the site, as much of the bedrock has been left untouched as possible. The building follows the contours of the site to minimize disturbance to the underlying bedrock and existing vegetation.

Wood is a locally available, renewable and recyclable material for construction. It also produces reduced emissions and provides remarkable co2 storage.

Authors:

Shipboy Housing

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Shipboy Housing

Urban Design

Main objectives of the project

Date

  • 1995: Construction

Stakeholders

  • Architect: Helin & Co Architects

Location

Continent: Europe
City: Helsinki
Country/Region: Finland, Helsinki

Description

Authors: