Ecological log homes bring the area to life
26.2.2018 BY By Sanna Huovinen
Townhouses are a popular way of building comfy homes and neighbourhoods, especially in Central Europe. A townhouse is a two or three storey urban house, located on its own lot and connected to the adjacent buildings. A townhouse made of logs is a natural blend of modern wood construction, the comfort of living, health and well-being and ecological values.
Many wooden townhouse projects have been realised in Finland in recent years. These houses do not usually have the shared yard typical of terraced houses, but instead each apartment has its own private yard that is usually located behind the building. The entrance to townhouse apartments is right on the street.
Hirsi Townhouse / Marko Simsiö
Townhouses create a dense and low urban landscape
One reason for the popularity of townhouse-type buildings is that they combine people’s wishes for their homes with dense urban construction. Living in a detached house is a desired option, but in urban environments it is also often an expensive one. When the lots are expensive, a townhouse with a small yard offers just enough privacy without sacrificing the communality and security provided by close-by neighbours.
In addition to residents, an urban and dense way of living is also of interest to city planners and property developers. The ecological townhouse solution is ideal for both building new neighbourhoods and condensing old ones. The townhouse is an intermediate form between a one-family detached house and terraced house, which allows for a lot of versatility. The interiors of these two or three storey buildings are very malleable, and as the entrance is right on the street, the ground floor can be devoted to the family business, for example. The apartments can come together to form a housing association or everyone can own their own apartment.
Hirsi Townhouse won the honour of Best Urban Log Dwelling
Healthy and ecological wood construction is of interest to all parties involved in construction, regardless of the country. In Finland, the Finnish Log House Industry Association organised a competition for architecture students together with the University of Oulu’s Modern Log City project in the autumn of 2017. The goal of the competition was to discover new log house models for different urban environments that would interest consumers. The shared first prize went to a University of Oulu architecture student Marko Simsiö and his work Hirsi Townhouse (Log Townhouse).
The wishes people had for their housing formed the starting point for the design of Simsiö’s competition entry: people want to live near city centres, where the jobs and services are, yet they still yearn for a house of their own. A townhouse offers detached-house-like living in the vicinity of the city’s jobs and services.
I wanted to look into how the townhouse house type, which is gaining in popularity in Finland as well, would fit into an urban environment when made out of logs. I noticed that it could make the Finnish urban landscape richer and bring variety to the blocks of flats.
Hirsi Townhouse / Marko Simsiö
Narrow-framed and adjoined townhouses enable efficient and dense construction. A private yard surrounded by a fence allows residents to spend time in their own space. In townhouse solutions, the number of houses can vary flexibly based on lot size and need.
The slim profile and multi-storey structure of a townhouse enables more efficient construction than terraced houses, for example. In the frame of the building, the load is usually borne only by the exterior walls, which makes for easily modifiable interiors that can change with the owner’s needs.
Hirsi Townhouse makes the urban landscape more diverse: the facade facing the street is subdued, which means it can fit in different urban environments. The logs are left visible, but they are realised in a modern manner.
The clearly defined shape and apertures, the use of zero corners and the metal and glass surfaces of the facade create a modern look that blends right into the cityscape. Treating the logs with different coatings and paints can be used to give the facades variety and personalise the houses. The roofs can be shaped to match the surrounding buildings.
On the inside, Hirsi Townhouse leaves its logs and the beams holding up the intermediate floors and roof visible so that the genuine wood structure is displayed more prominently. The end of the house features a large balcony and a glass wall that opens to the courtyard and brings in light. The glass wall can be opened with sliding doors. The level of light and privacy on the balcony can be adjusted with sliding wooden lattices. Skylights and a light well provide light to the middle part of the house frame.
Modifiable and ecological urban dwelling
The number of people living in a house is not always constant. The needs of the residents also change over time as they age, for example. For an apartment to stay livable for as long as possible, it must be modifiable. This is why the storeys of Hirsi Townhouse are divided into three zones. The auxiliary spaces, such as bathrooms, are located in the middle of the house frame and the actual living spaces are at both ends of house. Holes can be punched through the intermediate floors to allow for a high ceiling in the living room, for example.
Hirsi Townhouse / Marko Simsiö
The spaces can be modified to suit different purposes because the load-bearing frame of the house is formed only by the exterior walls. This means the interior spaces can be divided with lightweight partition walls or, alternatively, an entire storey can be left as an open space. An elevator reservation allows aging residents to keep living in their home for as long as possible. The elevator also allows for separating the different storeys into separate apartments. A part of the first floor can be split off to become a separate apartment for a grandparent or teenager – or a personal or rental office space.
The rectangular shape of the building makes it energy efficient. The large windows and sliding glass doors use energy-efficient glass. The balcony zone and its sliding lattices and wide eaves prevent excess sunlight from getting into the apartments in the summer.
A preliminary test suggests that Hirsi Townhouse is more ecological than the average house.
Tara in Myllypuro – an example of modern urban construction
Urban houses made of massive logs create a pleasant atmosphere for the neighbourhood called Tara constructed in 2012 in Helsinki’s Myllypuro. The neighbourhood contains 13 two or three storey homes with sizes varying from 50 to 150 square metres.
The area makes use of the possibilities provided by modern log construction: the houses are comfy and energy-efficient. Myllypuro’s Tara also ranked high in the Log Building of the Year competition the year it was completed.