Anni Laurila – Highlights and Challenges of the Lielahti project

Finnish Architect Anni Laurila was recently awarded as first runner-up of the EFCA Future Leaders Award. She achieved this prize as project manager of the master plan of Lielahti, a large-scale project for the City of Tampere in Finland. In this interview, she tells us about this project as well as its challenges and highlights. The project is exemplary in terms of sustainability and, being female-led, also greatly implements YesWePlan! project outcomes.

Please shortly take us through the project’s conception.

The conception of the project began with the City of Tampere’s goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2030 and of creating a new tram line, which provided the impetus for the development of a sustainable master plan for the Lielahti area. We aimed to transform the area from a car-centric commercial zone, without strong cityscape and historical values, into a diverse and sustainable area.

My role was to lead the whole project. We conducted extensive reports of the area’s existing conditions, including transportation patterns, commercial needs, noise and vibration levels, climate action and biodiversity. We also engaged a range of stakeholders, including private landowners, through workshops to gather input and feedback on the project’s vision and goals.

Using this information, we developed a master plan for land use and transportation, which included the integration of the new tram line and the strengthening of pedestrian, cycling, and bus infrastructure. The plan also included a central zone for hybrid housing in the south, a commercial zone, as well as an extensive green path with wetlands to support biodiversity in the northern part of the area.

We sought to create an area that responds to the changing needs of the city and its residents, while enhancing the natural environment and sustainability. The master plan guides the development of the area over the next 20 years.

What role does sustainability play in the project?

The master plan included a climate change report and action plans that aim for negative emissions rather than net-zero. After all, Tampere aims to be climate neutral in 2030, and the area will be developed step-by-step until 2040.

The project integrates a new tram line, along with the strengthening of pedestrian, cycling, and bus infrastructure. By prioritizing public transportation and reducing reliance on cars, the project aims to reduce emissions and promote sustainable mobility. The extensive green path with wetlands in the northern part of the area also highlights the importance of biodiversity and ecosystem services in the project. Incorporating green infrastructure into the master plan provides multiple benefits, including carbon sequestration and habitat for wildlife.

For the commercial areas we created “cluster and green mall” principles. By combining synergetic commercial activities and centred logistics, we aim to promote sustainable and efficient use of resources. Additionally, circular economy principles were embedded in the typology guidelines of the different areas. The hybrid housing typology, which includes green and activity-filled paths across blocks, highlights the importance of liveability and community in the project. The area is not planned as a single unit but rather works in synergy with the nearby developing areas, to further increase sustainability.

What did you learn from this project for future tasks? What do you take away from this experience?

I learned a lot in the process that can be implemented in different planning and design projects, particularly as a project manager and principal designer. As this was 10 times larger than the projects I had previously led, I really enjoyed looking at the big picture of a large project, listening to a multitude of perspectives, from the environmental needs to the landowners, to create a balanced whole.

It was like large puzzle with a multitude of uniquely shaped pieces, that I aimed to put together seamlessly to form a clear picture. Being mindful of all perspectives, and making clarity out of complexity, interests me. Given the number of stakeholders and private landowners, effective communication and collaboration were key to achieving the project’s objectives. I’m particularly driven by projects that challenge me.

The project also emphasized the importance of a flexible and adaptive approach to urban planning. Given the constantly evolving nature of urban environments, it is important to design plans that are adaptable and responsive to changing needs and circumstances.

You have taken part in many different competitions. In your opinion, what role do architecture and design competitions play in advancing gender equality in the building sector?

Public and anonymous architectural competitions play an important role in giving a more even starting point, regardless of the designer’s background. They can be a leverage for i.e. young architects, to get commissions and recognition that are typically reserved for firms and individuals with more prior experience or connections.

Statistically, there are still fewer females participating and winning design competitions in Finland, and so I would encourage females to more take part in them.

I’m all about having a positive impact, and different awards have been one important leverage in getting things done. In the case of being the first runner-up for EFCA Future Leader, I was particularly glad that it was Europe-wide. Being a Speaker of the Year nominee in Finland, and particularly winning Finland’s first Global Impact Challenge (a technology innovation challenge to improve the lives of a million people), were important steps towards where I am now and what positive impact I can have.

Anni Laurila has also taken the time to discuss her career path as an architect in general and given us her insights on sustainibility and equality issues. Read the full interview here.