Ambitious energy solutions in Laakso

Anni Tyni and Ulla Nykter in the Laakso Hospital area in summer 2022.
Anni Tyni and Ulla Nykter in the Laakso Hospital area in summer 2022.

When Laakso Joint Hospital is completed in 2030, as much as 40 per cent of its energy will be generated using waste energy. Among other things, the lifecycle objectives for the project emphasise the service life, ecological sustainability, environmental responsibility, energy efficiency and low emissions.

The challenge: design the energy solutions for a large hospital project in 2018, although the project as a whole will only be completed in 2030.

Additional challenge: take account of sustainability and carbon footprint perspectives in addition to renewable, recyclable and self-sufficient energy.

“We are talking about very ambitious solutions,” says Ulla Nykter, the chief lifecycle designer for the Laakso Joint Hospital project. Nykter, Group Manager at Granlund, an expert group of companies in the real estate and construction sectors, is responsible for ensuring that targets are set for the energy and sustainability solutions in the Laakso project – and that the targets are reached in practice.

According to Nykter, it was important to ensure from the very beginning of the project that the design did not get bogged down in the solutions in use in 2018. Anni Tyni, a senior energy specialist at the City of Helsinki, was in full agreement. Tyni represents the client in the Laakso Joint Hospital project.

“We cannot know what the world will be like in 2030,” she admits.

Tyni is responsible for ensuring that the client’s ecological sustainability objectives are taken into consideration in the Laakso project. According to her, the energy solutions in Laakso are designed in such a way that as the technology develops, new solutions can be added to the hospital area, even after construction is completed.

“Further refinement must be possible,” she says. This is important because energy solutions and hospital activities are constantly evolving. New requirements are constantly being set.

Lifecycle objectives were also drawn up for Laakso Joint Hospital in 2018. In addition to the service life of the hospital, the objectives include ecological sustainability, environmental responsibility, energy efficiency and low emissions. It must also be possible to use, maintain and adapt the hospital for as long as possible.

“Let’s take the best ideas,” says Nykter. “And develop them further,” continues Tyni.

The designers occasionally finish off each other’s sentences as if they could read each other’s minds. They have worked together before.

In the Laakso Joint Hospital project, it is possible to improve the energy performance rating of the buildings by up to 20 per cent. The minimum target is an improvement of 10 per cent on the regulatory level. According to Nykter, “the target has been set at a realistic level”.

“For some people, setting the minimum standard at ten per cent below the regulatory level may sound insignificant, as buildings such as schools and daycare centres already have bigger targets. However, hospitals are a more demanding use case, so 10 or 20 per cent is really good for a hospital,” Tyni says.

Laakso Joint Hospital is one of the longest projects in the careers of Nykter and Tyni. Their roles will extend into the post-completion liability period after the hospital and buildings have been opened to the public.

“We will not know whether we have reached the targets until 2030 or later. All we can do at the moment is estimate whether we are heading in the right direction,” Tyni says.

Recovering waste heat

Hospitals differ from many other construction projects in the sense that they need absolutely enormous amounts of energy at all hours of the day, every day of the year. The hospital’s energy security must also be guaranteed, both during normal times and in crises.

The most important premises in the hospital are prioritised: they must be able to function with absolute certainty in the event of a power cut.

The hospital’s energy solutions require a high level of reliability under different circumstances. According to Nykter and Tyni, contingency plans are made for different major and minor crises. A minor crisis may be something like the failure of a heat pump, which can be repaired quite quickly. A major crisis could be, for example, the collapse of the entire energy system.

“But we will be prepared for that as well,” Nykter says. “Backup generators will be used during a crisis.”

As much as 40 per cent of the Laakso Joint Hospital’s energy will be generated from waste heat. This is an example of energy efficiency.

“Waste heat arises in many places: whenever cooling is needed, heat is also generated – in a refrigerator, for example. Now, we are recovering the warm air or warm liquid and sending it wherever heating is needed,” Nykter explains.

Hospitals have a lot of premises that need cooling around the clock, every day of the year: ventilation, kitchens, morgues, telecommunications rooms and imaging equipment. Heat can be recovered from all of these.

The old buildings in Laakso Joint Hospital will be renovated to improve their energy efficiency. A lot can be done with technical building services, ventilation and lighting, but Nykter says it is not worth replacing everything. The Finnish Heritage Agency’s protection requirements impose constraints on what can be done to the facades of old buildings.

Quarried rock used as a filler

Several buildings are being demolished in the Laakso Hospital area. For example, up to 90 per cent of the materials from the health centre that was demolished in summer 2022 can be reused: crushed concrete will be used for preconstruction, plaster can be used to make plasterboard, and glass is turned into foam glass. Insulating wool is ground down to create mineral wool powder, which is used as an alternative raw material for cement as part of the WOOL2LOOP development project.

Some composite materials and plastics are also left behind on demolition sites, and these are difficult to recycle. For now, most clean demolished timber is still being burnt to generate energy.

“The amount of material that ends up as pure waste from demolition sites is decreasing all the time. There has been enormous progress in this area in the last couple of years,” Nykter says.

A new parking garage will be blasted into the rock beneath Laakso Joint Hospital, and this will create large volumes of rock material, also known as quarry. Since the quarry cannot be used in the Laakso Joint Hospital area, the City of Helsinki’s land mass coordinator will help to find a different construction site that can use the material.

Efforts are made to reuse the materials from demolished buildings as carefully as possible.
Efforts are made to reuse the materials from demolished buildings as carefully as possible.

The hospital will use energy generated on-site

The new hospitals in Laakso aim to use energy generated on-site wherever possible.

The use of renewable energy will be taken into consideration during construction, in addition to recycling. The system enables renewable energy to be used from several energy sources, with the best-known solutions being geothermal and air-water heat pumps, which are also used on a smaller scale elsewhere.

Laakso Joint Hospital will use solar energy in addition to heat pumps. In the places where the roof area has not been taken over by a green roof or any other technical building installation, solar panels have been installed to produce large numbers of megawatts.

“We have also thought about the views from the windows,” Nykter says.

Solar panels have gone down in price, so more efficient panels are now available for less money. Panels will be purchased for the Laakso project several years from now, so technological development in the meantime could lead to even better solutions.

Green roofs are also verdant garden areas

Green roofs also help with stormwater management. They have a delaying effect, so not all rainwater flows into asphalted and paved areas, and it is not necessary to direct it into the city’s sewers immediately. This prevents flooding, which, in the worst case, could place the city’s sewer network under considerable strain.

Green roofs also serve as verdant gardens. They have a cooling effect, and they eliminate the heat island effect. A heat island is an urban phenomenon where asphalt and buildings store up heat and radiate it outwards, causing the temperature to rise.

The protected tuberculosis hospital buildings from the 1920s are surrounded by a protected park, which will not be altered. Old trees have been safely wrapped in warning tape to ensure that they can grow where they stand without any knocks and bumps. At the same time, their presence is a bridge between the new era and the preserved surroundings and atmosphere.

Text and photos: Raine Huvila

The atmospheric hospital park is protected.
The atmospheric hospital park is protected, and as much as possible of the original trees and other vegetation will be preserved.