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Wood bends in the hands of Finns

Finnish furniture designer Sanelma Hihnala studies how wood can be used in everyday objects with as little processing as possible and designs her work directly from raw wood.Jan Ijäs

Wood has been used in construction and for everyday objects for centuries. The trend will continue in the future due to the increasing focus on the bioeconomy and eco-friendliness.

Finland is among the forerunners in the diverse use of wood. We present some of the most innovative examples of how wood bends in the hands of Finns.

The world’s population is growing and people are moving to the cities. More apartments need to be built and old apartments need to be renovated and expanded. People are furnishing their homes and needing everyday objects. Public buildings are being constructed.

In Europe, construction consumes more raw materials than any another branch of industry. The used materials are mostly non-renewable cement and steel whose manufacture results in considerable climate and environmental problems.

Wood is a renewable and ecological option. When it grows, a tree uses the carbon dioxide in the air, which it then stores. A wooden house also acts as a carbon sink. At the end of their lifecycle, wood products can be recycled or turned into energy.

Despite this, wood is used relatively little globally. The material could, undoubtedly, be used more.

The residents in Finland’s largest wooden high-rise building block in Helsinki have been extremely happy with the buildings’ sound insulation, among others. Image: Heidi Höök

Finnish and European forests are also managed in a sustainable way.

“It takes 29 seconds for a Finnish forest to grow enough wood for a wooden high-rise building,” says Mikko Viljakainen, managing director of Puuinfo, an organisation promoting the use of wood in construction.

Viikki’s suburb in Helsinki features one of Finland’s largest new wooden high-rise building areas. The buildings, built according to a method developed by the Finnish company Metsä Wood, are quiet and spacious.

Based on Finnish studies, people living in wooden apartment buildings are more satisfied than average with their apartments’ sound insulation, indoor temperature and living costs.

Wooden structures also improve indoor air quality. Studies show that wooden elements indoors reduce stress levels, among other things. Viljakainen says that wooden surfaces have even been noticed to enhance the recovery of hospital patients.

Wood, a light-weight and easily adaptable material, can be used cleverly in disaster areas. People who have lost their homes could be offered the Liina transitional shelter, developed by the Wood Program students at Aalto University’s Department of Architecture, that does not require any tools to set up.

“There is often nothing left in earthquake areas,” says the head of the Wood Program Pekka Heikkinen. “The Liina shelter can be assembled using nylon straps in just a few hours.”

The Liina transitional shelter, developed by the Wood Program students at Aalto University, is being tested in a wind tunnel to see how it will stand up to weather conditions in disaster areas. Image: Aalto University

The ecological house is designed to withstand extreme conditions: according to Heikkinen, it will stay standing in storm winds and during quakes. Two house packages can fit in a container and be easily shipped to disaster areas.

Sanelma Hihnala, who graduated from Aalto University as a furniture designer last year, has studied the use of raw wood in furniture and everyday objects.

“Wood is fun to study. What happens to it and what you can do with it using as little processing as possible,” Hihnala says. “Wood can be processed and bent using only water: wetting, drying and steaming.”

Wood that has been processed less is also more ecological.

“When the object’s time has come, it can be turned into firewood or used to heat a sauna, for example,” the designer says. “Energy isn’t wasted in processing it.”

Studying furniture design in Finland involves a lot of hands-on working methods in workshops. The students work on their models using methods that are not limited to just computer programmes.

Hihnala creates her designs directly from raw wood. For her diploma work looking into the use of raw wood, she dragged a trailer-full of branches to the school’s workshop: “From them I then started to outline all kinds of crooked wooden objects.”

Many young Finnish designers use wood: “In Finland we have a lot of wood and no shortage of places to process it,” says Hihnala. “Before industrial processing, people made their own furniture because they could find wood in their backyards.”

The designer cannot think of any limits to using wood. “Maybe bathtubs. Although the old fashioned bathing tubs are made of wood.”

Next, Hihnala plans to go to Padasjoki in Central Finland to fetch a pier log that has been underwater for 30 years. She doesn’t know yet what it will turn into. “But it will certainly have a very beautiful patina.”

Sanelma Hihnala, a recent furniture design graduate from Aalto University, says that during studies the students were nearly forbade to use plastic based on eco-friendliness. Image: Heidi Höök
By: Heidi Höök