Towards resilient urban housing – FoREfront researchers and associates look for ways to prepare for extreme weather

Researchers from the University of Helsinki and Natural Resources Institute Finland are investigating, together with construction companies and cities, how to prevent flooding and mitigate the effects of heat with nature-derived solutions. Funded by Business Finland, the project allows businesses pathways to global export.
This is what the project is all about
  • The goal is to identify ways to make the built environment increasingly resilient, reduce its carbon footprint and increase local self-sufficiency.
  • The project investigates how businesses, cities and residents can influence the whole: what obstacles impede, for example, timber construction and how do consumer preferences guide the market? Good practices will be collected from Estonia, Slovenia, Denmark and the Netherlands.
  • The project will result in an understanding of how businesses, cities and residents can together build resilient living environments. Accumulating knowledge helps businesses develop products and services for both domestic sales and global export.

Extreme weather phenomena caused by climate change make life in cities increasingly difficult. Increased winter precipitation and diagonal rain, which put buildings to the test, can be expected in Finland (summary in English). At the same time, heat can form suffocating heat islands. According to Professor of Forest Sciences Anne Toppinen, there are already indications in consumer research that people are worried about the future of housing.

“They are afraid that, as extreme weather phenomena increase, the repair costs associated with residential construction will rise and unexpected events may occur.”

To tackle these risks, the University of Helsinki, Natural Resources Institute Finland and their partners have joined forces in the Business Finland funded project FoREfront. The project seeks ways to make the built environment resilient. 

Businesses must be able to introduce to the market new solutions based on the biocircular economy and nature. For this purpose, they need information on the expectations of multiple parties: what, for example, motivates cities to introduce new kinds of products and what kind of housing do people value?


What residents see as the benefits of nature-based solutions can be realised in the housing market in a way that will increase demand for areas with smart green construction.

Anne Toppinen, professor of forest sciences
Cooling green roofs and water-binding flower meadows

The researchers have already collected workshop and interview data on the pioneer cities of Helsinki and Turku, as well as using these data to outline a path towards resilient residential environments. According to Toppinen, resilience, or the ability to adapt to changes in the environment, has been identified as a key factor.

“We also recognise that cities should be designed from the perspective of not only humans but other species too.”

The effects of extreme weather could be mitigated, for instance, with green roofs and walls that would protect biodiversity and reduce apartment overheating. At the same time, flower meadows and gardens would serve as rain-water basins to prevent flooding. Concrete, a source of carbon dioxide emissions, should be replaced with wood materials, and the potential of timber-framed apartment blocks as carbon reservoirs should be utilised.

“Their share could be increased in the same way as in Sweden,” Toppinen suggests.

The University of Helsinki will make available to businesses the multidisciplinary research on low-carbon solutions, the biocircular economy and timber construction conducted at the Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science HELSUS. The consumer datasets of the Decarbon-Home project will also be utilised.

The key to constructing resilient cities is seamless local cooperation. For example, regulations on land use and construction determine which new products businesses can adopt. In fact, Toppinen considers it important that cities establish markets for nature-based solutions.

“They can use city planning, plot allocation terms and the blue-green coefficient as part of urban planning, while influencing through communication and the engagement of residents.”

Businesses like to hear that their product development is on the right track

One of the FoREfront partners is Kerabit, a manufacturer of roofs, water insulation solutions and solar power plants. According to Business Director Ville Lindholm, the company joined the project to help its customers increase the value of their properties and reduce their carbon footprint. The company will gain through the project more research-based knowledge than it would be able to acquire on its own.

“We are able to utilise it in our own product development and in the market,” Lindholm says.

One important outcome of the collaboration is that it confirms the company’s point of view. Even though, for example, green roofs have not yet made a breakthrough, the direction towards sustainable construction is a positive sign.

Without research knowledge, we would be less certain about whether we are heading in the right direction and how we should market our products.

“It gives hope in that we are on the right track and that we wish to continue creating a greener product.”

Further inspiration is sought by identifying good practices in Estonia, Slovenia, Denmark and the Netherlands. This will boost businesses’ skills and understanding of the markets in different countries, paving the way to export. 

Lindholm finds the meetings of the project group particularly productive. He believes that dialogue helps customers understand when to submit calls for tenders to include nature-derived solutions in construction projects.

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The collaboration in a nutshell:

FoREfront is a Co-Innovation project funded by Business Finland for the period 2023–2025. The project is coordinated by Natural Resources Institute Finland together with the University of Helsinki. Project partners are Oiva Wood Solutions Oy, Kerabit Oy, Skanska Oy, the cities of Helsinki and Turku as well as Green Building Council Finland. Universities in Estonia, Slovenia, the Netherlands and Denmark help in collecting good practices from the control countries.

The goal of the project is to accumulate knowledge and information that businesses can use to produce solutions for sustainable housing and construction both in Finland and for the export market. Such solutions help cities improve their resilience and mitigate the effects of extreme weather phenomena on buildings and people’s everyday lives. Further information on the project you will find here. 

Further information about the collaboration:

Anne Toppinen, Professor, Department of Forest Sciences, University of Helsinki 294 157 966

Ville Lindholm, Business Director, Kerabit Oy 50 321 3612