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Built Environment

Megatrends involve a transition that is changing the way we live and work. Energy efficiency urbanization and digitalization are transforming transport, housing and construction. Construction, urban planning and transportation planning are the key to creating an energy-efficient but high-quality residential and business environment.

Such a transition is an opportunity for those with the skills to take advantage of it. Aalto EE has been helping built environment experts and organizations to find new directions for half a century. In our programs, new information is jointly discovered as well as imparted: research findings are combined with the views of leading experts from various fields and the participants' own practical experiences. Interactive methods ensure that the training is geared to current development needs and helps the student to develop a focus on the built environment of the future.


Megatrends are changing our jointly built environment

In the near future, megatrends such as climate change, urbanization and digitalization will affect how we live and provide us with a shared built environment. In the case of buildings, to improve energy efficiency we must internalize the principles of the circular economy via our material choices, as well as minimizing energy consumption throughout a building's lifecycle. Urban and transportation planning need to solve the equation of raising energy efficiency while creating a higher quality residential and working environment, since most of the world’s population now lives in urban environments due to migration to the cities.

The possibilities of using digitalization to meet these major challenges remain largely uncharted. However, we can already see signs of how digitalization-based business models such as those of the platform economy, sharing economy and circular economy are transforming transportation, housing and construction.

Digitalization represents a social transition

Digitalization involves a transformation that will change the way we live and work in general, rather than merely offering a set of digital tools. In fact, urbanization has created preconditions that enable the most advanced applications of digitalization to enter our lives. We are living closer together, which is easing logistics. For example, we use public transport, city bike, restaurant and food shopping applications and recycle our goods through the social media.

Researchers are already referring to the fourth sector, which is posing a mounting challenge to traditional professions in terms of how, and what kind of, cities and buildings are planned and built."

Digitalization has also enabled a new kind of urban social life and activism. City events such as restaurant days, which bring the virtual and real worlds together, would not be possible without the social media and digital applications. Such events, and the interactive practices which have developed on their basis, also have an impact on how people inhabit, and involve themselves in the urban design of, their own cities. Researchers are already referring to the fourth sector, which is posing a mounting challenge to traditional professions in terms of how, and what kind of, cities and buildings are planned and built.

This implies that digitalization and urbanization ultimately involve a social transformation which is posing a challenge to traditional expertise: on what grounds is your expertise legitimized and how do you interact with end users.

Digitalization will also ease the information sharing and lack of trust that are so often regarded as problematic in construction projects. It will increase transparency and facilitate communication, which are often crucial elements of both successful and unsuccessful construction projects. Digitalization concerns more than just better communications: digital solutions are changing our way of working and are presenting new business opportunities.

Construction and climate change

The built environment plays a critical role in combating climate change. Issues such as building materials and energy-related choices will largely determine how well we succeed in our goals for carbon emission reduction. With good reason, wood construction is often cited when discussing construction-based means of reducing emissions: low-carbon, renewable-wood construction will help achieve precisely those benefits and values to which consumers want to commit themselves. Wood construction is therefore both rational in a country in which forests are the key natural resource and profitable in terms of factors such as customer satisfaction – or even price in comparison to concrete construction. The ‘Orchestrating wood-construction value networks’ program shows how to eliminate bottlenecks in industrial wooden apartment construction and build networks.

In the built environment, energy consumption is another influential factor which has an impact on climate change. Because the building stock is being renewed slowly, attention should also be paid to renovation, insulation and renewable energy sources. The opportunities presented by digitalization could enable the unprecedented discovery and adoption of new innovations, when optimizing energy consumption and seeking new solutions.

Thirdly, climate change could be curtailed and its impacts mitigated through better land-use planning. This is all about how we invest in various activities, where we live and where we work. Legislation ensures that objectives are met and planning implemented. But we can also think in broader terms: through urbanization, most people are living in urban environments and planning processes will therefore have a fundamental impact on how sustainable our lifestyle is in general. It is often said that cities are precisely where climate change will be resolved – where our carbon footprint is imprinted in asphalt.

Fourthly, climate change can be curbed through better transport system design. It is important that land use is integrated with transport planning. As the number of city residents grows, we will have to build higher or wider. This, in turn, will affect how transport is planned in urban areas. In some cases, older transport arrangements will force us to follow our former courses and build wherever the flow takes us. Digitization is creating new solutions in this context. Teleworking and the diversification of alternative forms of transport are good examples of this. Meanwhile, freight logistics is developing rapidly due to digitalization and we will soon be able to form multileg journeys in unprecedented ways, and give up our cars if we wish. Electric cars may soon be doing the driving, while we focus on creating ecologically sustainable new solutions that make our lives easier.

Construction and lean thinking

Lean is a process management philosophy, which takes a holistic view of companies and supply chains. Its purpose is to improve production chain schedules, quality and costs. Lean thinking also offers an ideal way of developing the construction industry.

When, in traditional project theory, we solely emphasize transformation, based on optimizing subcontracting and minimizing costs, we do not achieve the best possible outcome from the holistic perspective. Lean thinking has two important goals in addition to transformation: flow and maximizing value. According to some calculations, applying lean principles can create savings totaling dozens of percent in construction projects. This shows how much waste and missed opportunities occur in traditional construction. The biggest savings come from large, complicated projects where lean principles are applied from the beginning, from the planning stage onward. 

This can generate savings of up to 30 percent on project costs."

Lean includes a renowned list of seven types of waste. The list does not include the "making do" typical of the construction industry. This refers to a situation where a creative attempt is made to cope despite the lack of elements – such as drawings, materials or employees – deemed crucial to the performance of certain work. Making do results in poor quality and lower productivity.

The Last Planner tool, which is based on lean principles, has been developed for the construction industry with the aim of eliminating waste caused by making do. The idea is to make sure that work is not begun before everything needed is in place.

On the planning side, lean thinking can be seen in the Big Room tool, for example. The Big Room tool involves all of the planners of a project working in close collaboration in the same space. Target Value Design, or planning aimed at a fixed cost goal, is the icing on the cake. This can generate savings of up to 30 percent on project costs.

 Building a better environment

Aalto EE and its predecessors have been helping to shape the built environment for around 50 years. The so-called great migration from the country to cities created unprecedented pressure for new construction and a need for the post-experience training of professionals in urban planning, construction and transport planning.

Aalto EE and its predecessors have been involved in Finland’s urbanization over the decades, creating more functional, healthier and more experiential residential and business environments for residents, businesses and communities. Aalto EE and its predecessors have been applying their growing expertise to creating a better world – in line with Aalto University’s goals – as Finland has become involved in international development projects and Finnish companies have received orders from around the globe.

Aalto EE has now assumed a new role as a developer of expertise in the built environment and a supporter of pioneers in the profession. The Aalto spirit and its core elements of cross-disciplinarity, sustainable development, corporate social responsibility, design expertise, entrepreneurship and innovation are playing a growing role in Aalto EE's new built environment programs.

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Mikko Laak

Senior Program Manager

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Timo Heikkinen

Solutions Director

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