Future Cities: Helsinki’s Underground Master Plan

Helsinki, Finland has developed the world’s first Underground Master Plan, locating facilities that don’t need to be “seen” in an extensive network of subterranean tunnels. The short video below shows some of the facilities that they’ve found can be efficiently located deep below the city, including coal storage silos, utilities, and even a data center.  While not every city may find an underground master plan relevant to their city’s planning, Helsinki’s example shows how context-sensitive solutions can be found in every city. Helsinki has taken the specific physical attributes of their city, and used them to their advantage in very specific solutions. They use the quality of the bedrock the city is built on, the proximity to cold water in their harbor, and the local attitude toward centralized planning to create a type of master plan unique in all the world.

Helsinki is unique among European capitals in that it was a master-planned city, almost from the beginning of its existence.  Established as the outpost Helsingfors in 1550 by the Swedes, it was intended to be a trading rival to the city of Talinn, Estonia, then controlled by the powerful Hanseatic League. It remained a tiny village until the area now known as Finland was conquered by the Russians in the early 19th century. In order to reduce the influence of Sweden on the Finns, the Russian Tsar moved the capital of the Finnish people from Turku to Helsinki, relocating all of Turku’s most important institutions to Helsinki.  At that point the tiny town was redesigned after the pattern of  nearby St. Petersburg, today a stark contrast to the organic, complicated, narrow-streeted old towns of most of Europe’s capitals. With a coordinated grid of streets, and forward thinking planning long established at the heart of the city’s operations, it should come as no surprise that Helsinki continues to be a trailblazer in the planning world.