Wooden multistory construction

A recent dissertation by Florencia Franzini titled “Wooden multistory construction as perceived by Finland’s municipal civil servants overseeing land use planning” sheds light on the various beliefs Finnish municipal civil servants hold about implementing wooden multistory buildings. Prior to the dissertation, the role of public administrators in enabling wooden multistory construction was largely unexamined. The work bridges a gap by providing information about whether and why municipalities perceive the implementation of wooden multistory projects as worthwhile. According to the results, municipal civil servants perceive a variety of social goods associated with wooden multistory construction. Still, project uptake is hampered by barriers associated with the construction sectors operating environment, such a limited number of builders or the perceived high costs of projects.

There is limited information on how public administrators evaluate the outcomes of implementing wooden multistory buildings for residential housing. Research on wooden construction primarily highlights the perceptions of industry actors (e.g., architects, engineers), producers (e.g., wood material supply chain), and occasionally consumers (e.g., residents and citizens). The limited perspective is tricky, given that public administrations may be largely responsible for governing land use planning, for example in Finland, where they are legally legitimized to oversee the creation and approval of land use zoning maps.

The dissertation tackles the limitation through a series of studies aimed at collecting perceptions of Finnish municipal civil servants through semi-structured interviews and a national-scale survey sent out to various representatives across all the municipalities within mainland Finland. Respondents included a wide range of employee professionals, like municipal planners, environmental engineers, senior managers, real estate agents, and building inspectors, among others. Ultimately, perceptions are constructed using the respondent’s own beliefs and attitudes towards wooden multistory construction. These beliefs and attitudes provided insight into three distinct accounts:

  • Why not wood? addresses the barriers and benefits of wooden multistory construction
  • Wood versus concrete; addresses how wooden- and concrete multistory buildings are compared
  • Planning for wood; addresses the ideologies influencing land use planning priorities that underpin attitudes towards wooden multistory construction

According to the findings of the dissertation, whether a municipal civil servant views wooden multistory buildings with a positive attitude rest largely with the buildings capacity to fulfil a variety of societal benefits. Essentially, when respondents were interviewed and asked to discuss advantages of wooden multistory construction, they described a variety of benefits. These benefits included a range of topics chiefly related to improving the local and regional economies, citizen lifestyles, technical qualities of residential buildings, and climate change. The beneficiaries of these outcomes included local citizen and businesses, the domestic forest sector, and even the municipalities themselves. Meanwhile, respondents comparing wooden- and concrete- multistory buildings through the national survey indicated that wooden multistory buildings held superior environmental qualities (e.g., lower carbon emissions), potentials to contribute to regional and local economies, and improve a municipality’s branding. On the other hand, the general consensus among respondents was that wooden multistory buildings were more expensive and were more susceptible to fire.

Interestingly, not all these qualities shape a civil servant’s attitudes towards wooden multistory construction in the same way. The caveat is that different professional occupancies appear to form their attitudes according to different sets of considerations. For example, municipal planners form their attitudes holistically according to whether the wooden multistory building project has superior environmental qualities, technical qualities, and economic development outcomes. Other administrators are largely forming attitudes according to whether the project holds superior economic development outcomes and technical qualities. This appears to indicate that different occupational professions working within the local administration hold different land use planning priorities and their positive view towards wooden multistory construction is closely aligned to whether the buildings fulfil those priorities. The caveat may be that not all professional groups may agree over what land use planning agendas to prioritize. Therefore, future research is needed to better understand whether these differences lead to planning tensions within local administrations.

While the research cannot unequivocally state to what degree the support or acceptance from public administrators can influence the diffusion of wooden multistory buildings, at the very least, these perceptions provide a unique counterpoint for reflecting on how the wooden multistory building phenomenon is developing across Finland. The broader implication is that for municipal civil servants, it appears a large part of supporting wooden multistory construction development rests with improving social goods.


Florencia Franzini is a doctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki. She will defend her thesis on March 23rd at 12:00. You can view the defense online or attend in person at Athena, Sali 107, Siltavuorenpenger 3 A, Helsinki. Professor Mark Hughes, Aalto University, will serve as the opponent, and Professor Anne Toppinen as the custos. The dissertation is available for reading online.

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