What Makes a Sustainable Living Environment? – Researchers Compiled a Checklist

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Several new trends in housing production are worrying experts, as these trends are compromising dwellers’ health and well-being as well as the longevity of the apartments. Researchers at the Tampere University School of Architecture compiled different aspects of housing design quality into a checklist.

Due to the recent focus on increasing urban densities, concerns are being raised both around the world and in Finland about a reduction in the design quality of apartment blocks to meet the needs of current and future citizens1. This matters, because there are about 3.2 million homes in Finland of which 47% are in apartment blocks, and most new homes are now multi-family apartment blocks2. From the perspective of sustainability, a dense urban structure is considered to create benefits through the energy- and spatial-efficiency of apartment blocks, as well as through the availability of services, goods and public transport. In addition to these environmental perspectives, socially sustainable housing design must meet the criteria of basic housing needs, that is, to create a safe environment for people to pursue independent activities, social participation and live a healthy life.3

Housing functionality and suitability for different and changing needs are crucial for long-term spatial, ecological and social sustainability, and are also stipulated in Finland’s national building regulations.4 Yet, several new trends in Finnish housing production – such as deeper building plans, poorly daylit apartments5, and apartments that do not meet residents’ needs over time or for a diversity of people6 – are worrying. In particular, a “double-loaded corridor”, meaning a long building corridor with apartments on both sides, has several knock-on effects on apartment design: it creates a larger proportion of single aspect apartments, typically reducing access to natural light and views. Moreover, the ever deeper building blocks lead to the creation of deep plan apartments, increasing internal circulation. All of these aspects decrease the apartment’s furnishability and adaptability potential.

These issues are typically more pronounced in small studio apartments, which take up 24% of the Finnish national housing stock, and the current production of one-room studios is as much as 40%.7 Additionally, apartment buildings set in a dense urban structure typically also have mediocre, shaded, tight outdoor spaces that are hard to use or spend time in during most times of the year.

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