With a progressive new urban plan an entire society can take a step from fossil fuel dependency to a more sustainable future. A good example is Mustasaari in Finland, where, in stiff international competition, White won the commission for creating a united and refined town centre, characterised by sustainability in all its dimensions. Here, an existing district is given a contemporary makeover, through the application of White’s urban planning, architectural and environmental design expertise. Mustasaari is a small municipality with 18,000 inhabitants on the coast, northeast of Vaasa. The central town of Smedsby is sparsely populated and has been bisected by a main road for decades. As traffic is now to be led around the town, a unique opportunity has arisen to unite two halves and improve the character of Smedsby. The competition task was to produce innovative ideas for a new flexible detailed development plan. 54 teams took part and White and WSP Finland shared the jury’s first prize. White’s idea is to create a clear central point, a concentrated town centre with the potential to stimulate street life and social interaction through a well-adapted and coherent structure of buildings and landscape. A new square, a 12-storey residential tower and a new Culture House Park are all envisaged, plus better public transport, including a tramline to Vaasa. The Smedsby of the future will be socially, economically and environmentally sustainable. White’s Sara Grahn, a professor in sustainable design, has overall responsibility for the project, working together with White’s environmental experts. The area will be carbon-neutral. New buildings will be constructed in locally-sourced Finnish timber according to passive-house standards. A geothermal heat pump is proposed, wind power will be a complement at some places and all construction will be according to the Green Building standard. Successful town planning is not a project, but a process with unique driving forces and impediments. White’s proposal therefore points towards a comprehensive structure, using tools that can lead the way through the lifetime of the project, and beyond.


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