In 2019 I was privileged to be a Judge in the ‘Production Energy & Recycling’ Category at World Architecture Festival (WAF) in Amsterdam. It was a particularly interesting category containing a range of building typologies from wineries to power stations.
Especially interesting were buildings that engaged in overlapping and multiple functionalities both in terms of processes working towards environmental circularity but also in terms of positioning the building in relation to the potential circularity of city processes.
What can buildings offer the city and what does the city offer the building? An example amongst the finalists was the Telia Helsinki Datacenter by Parviainen Architects located in the centre of Helsinki, Finland.
In the current COVID 19 global crisis we find ourselves in, we find ourselves reliant on big data centres in order to continue our lives; work remotely, continue with our schooling and most importantly maintain our social connections. These data centres are largely unseen, located in remote locations with good security and power supplies.
The Telia Helsinki Datacentre, however, is located in central Helsinki, an interesting proposition. The building itself is essentially a big box – a super-computer processor requiring a handful of people to oversee its operation. Why locate it in the city itself? It requires huge electrical capacity BUT it generates a huge amount of heat as a by-product. This is the clever part, by locating the data centre in the city, it can act as a ‘power station’ – the ‘waste product’ – heat – can be used as a district heating plant, and in doing so the building becomes multi-functional and part of a response to rethinking urban resources in terms of a circular economy.
The building also functions as a lightbox beacon in the city but unfortunately did not appear to integrate very well with the city at street level and was not able to take on board other civic functionality. Imagine it is also contained a library or a gym? But it points the way towards how buildings can and must take on multiple roles in the city.