Respect the low sun

You have to bear in mind where you are. Here I was, in the centre of Helsinki, way before the dreaded turning forward of the clocks, and already the early afternoon sunshine had put half of the world into a long shadow – along with the 140 United Buddy Bears, due to be packed up on 26.10.

It’s interesting that non-Finnish architects and planners appear to have such a sensitivity to these kinds of factors. In fact, many locals definitely don’t! Probably though, it’s just wishful thinking, you know, hoping against hope (and cosmology) that you could enjoy a latte right here, on the south side of Helsinki’s Senate Square, that the Italian piazza and the New York skyscraper would make Finland so much more interesting.

Engel, who masterplanned the Senate Square 200 years ago was a foreigner too. No doubt he spent weeks and months analysing the site before presenting his plans to the city.

Ditto some of teh international design teams that have been pondering pondered “New Helsinki”, Jätkäsaari in particular. It is set to become Finland’s flagship no-carbon or low-carbon project. Sitra, the innovation people, organised a design competition last year, and slowly a new type of urban entity will start to appear in SW Helsinki.

Peter Rose and partners didn’t win, but their entry is on the Low2No website. We here at JHJ like the name or their entry: Low Carbon-High Urban. Also, it’s wonderful how seriously the architects have taken the problem of how to make best use of the sun, that source of free energy. Here’s what they note about sunshine and street layout:

South facing streets and long, narrow buildings are optimal for maximizing exposure to sunlight at this northern latitude. Maximizing the amount of daylight would not only reduce energy use but also improve people’s sense of well being.

And so this is what they proposed.

It was they who said in the video on the website, “you have to respect the low sun”.

If only more Finnish planners and urbanists would adopt their kind of tone – the self-evident need to get private cars outta here, to make it so people are never more than 2 minutes from a tram stop, to use the opportunities to connect the new neighbourhood to what’s next door and to the suburbs of the entire area.

Ever so politely, the architects Rose and Schuler ticked off Finns for chucking dirty water into the sea and for using so much electricity. Basically it’s too cheap so all you have to do is cut down demand! And they suggest a the use of wood gas as a fuel for an on-site micro electrical and heat generator.

Equally politely, they seemed to be saying, don’t mess up these great opportunitites in Helsinki not-such-wonderful master plans. Think!

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