Wood is used for rollercoasters and apartment buildings everywhere - except in Finland
Development projects in Finland are still based on traditional forestry industry thinking
Let's make a list of significant wood-built structures in Finland.
There's the Sibelius Hall in Lahti, The Finnforest headquarters in Tapiola in Espoo, a clutch of old churches... err... and that's about it.
No shame if you cannot think of others, as there aren't any.
Not even if three-quarters of the country’s land-area is covered with forests.
Last year a nine-storey timber-frame building was erected in London.
From the Finnish perspective this was a downright miracle, and the building received a fair amount of attention in the Finnish media and various seminars across the country.
”To build something like that would never happen in Finland. Not with the present legislation”, says Mika Kallio, Senior Vice President Building Solutions at Finnforest.
In Finland, getting ahead with wood innovations is difficult, because attitudes towards forests and wood are stiff and starchy.
“Extraordinarily tight regulations that have been drawn up on poor grounds govern constructing from wood”, confirms Erkki Verkasalo, Professor of Wood Science and Technology at the Finnish Forest Research Institute METLA, referring to the Finnish fire safety regulations, which are considerably tighter than in most other countries.
Constructing from wood is held back by tradition, even though from the environmental point of view it is a much better alternative to the use of reinforced concrete. Wood binds carbon dioxide, whereas concrete releases it into the atmosphere.
“In this respect the Swedes have overtaken us clearly”, Verkasalo continues.
For one, most of the Swedish municipalities have launched sizeable wood-construction projects: wood-framed apartment buildings, public buildings, bridges, and entire city districts are being erected widely.
Other countries have left Finland behind also in the utilisation of other forest innovations.
Compared with Finland, the Swedish forestry industry produces much more consumer products. Unlike the demand for printing paper, the demand for nappies does not wane just because we are in the Internet era.
The forerunners of construction in wood, in turn, are found in Central Europe. Finland has provided the material for several timber monuments for example in France and Spain.
A couple of years ago researchers in the Finnish Åbo Akademi university even discovered a component from the inner branches of spruce that has cancer-preventing properties. The find was patented by a pharmaceutical company - in Switzerland.
And unlike elsewhere, wooden amusement park rides have not been constructed in Finland since 1950, when the large rollercoaster at Helsinki’s Linnanmäki was erected.
Even though Finland is in the forefront in the development of chemical pulp nanotechnology and bioenergy, the Finnish forestry research still primarily concentrates on traditional products. And until the beginning of 2000s this worked well enough.
“For this reason people within the field did not believe that income could one day be generated from other products as well; even the kind of products that had not been invented yet. Boldness and the ability to foresee changes have been decidedly lacking”, explains researcher Jakob Donner-Amnell from the University of Joensuu.
When companies’ operating capital is tied up in installations and hardware, such as factories and machines, it cannot be quickly transferred to new uses. And as long as the present factories have managed to produce at least a little bit of something, there has not been the courage there to embrace new products.
Decades-old austere approaches towards reinventing oneself are now wreaking their own revenge in shrinking sales and growing unemployment figures.
This is proving costly to the tax-payers, for a lot of public money has been invested in developing the existing structures of the branch.
“I have tried to ask what the fruit of all this development work is. The bringing about of a new more diversified structure is such a slow process that it should have been started afresh a long time ago”, says Donner-Amnell.
Previously in HS International Edition:
ANALYSIS: Finnish forestry industry returns to “primary state” (6.2.2009)