Infrastructure Past, Present, and Future Casebook/Finnish Underground

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This casebook is a case study on The Finnish Underground by Francisco Ortiz, Ben Geary, and Mahid Sheikh as part of the Infrastructure Past, Present and Future: GOVT 490-003 (Synthesis Seminar for Policy & Government) / CEIE 499-002 (Special Topics in Civil Engineering) Spring 2023 course at George Mason University's Schar School of Policy and Government and the Volgenau School of Engineering Sid and Reva Dewberry Department of Civil, Environmental, and Infrastructure Engineering. Modeled after the Shinkansen High Speed Rail case study. Under the instruction of Professor Jonathan Gifford.

Summary[edit | edit source]

Finnish Underground refers to the many underground infrastructure projects that Finland has focused on since the late 1960's. These projects began as civil defense shelters to protect citizens from Finland's neighbor Russia but, have expanded to public utilities, public transport, and many cultural hot spots. This case study focuses mainly on the underground of Helsinki, as it is the most developed and the most interconnected system of underground projects in Finland. Construction of the vast underground network began in the 1980s and continues to this day. Helsinki now has almost 10 million square meters (33 million square feet) of underground spaces and tunnels that conceal a subterranean art museum, church, swimming hall, shops and even a karting track inside a civil defense shelter []. To connect these places, there are underground metro lines, bus routes, and pedestrian paths, all of which are equipped to serve as bomb shelters should the need arise.

The majority (around 85%) of civil defense shelters are privately owned.[1] This is due to the Civil Defense Act of 1958 and the later Rescue Act of 2011 that made building owners responsible for creating civil defense shelters. The construction of civil defense shelters in Finland is allocated to the largest buildings based on a risk assessment. Under the Rescue Act, a civil defense shelter must be built when the floor area of the building exceeds 1,200 square meters and the building is used as a permanent dwelling or workplace or is otherwise permanently occupied. In industrial buildings and those used for manufacturing, storage and meetings, the floor area limit is 1,500 square meters.[2] Building owners must also keep regular maintenance on there shelters, have their equipment and shelter inspected at least every 10 years, and be able to fully convert it from whatever secondary use it is being used for to a civil defense shelter. The Finnish government allows civil defense shelters to be used for storage and other uses, as long as they can be made fully operational as shelters within 72 hours.[2]

Timeline of Events[edit | edit source]

  • End of the Russo-Finnish War and Signing of the Treaty of Moscow 1939-1940
  • The Ministry of Interior, under the Civil Defense Act of 1958, is responsible for the construction and maintenance of civil defense shelters 1958
  • Temppeliaukio "Rock" Church is constructed as one of the first landmark underground projects in Finland 1969
  • The Helsinki City Council approves a set of planning principles for an Underground Master Plan 4
  • The Rescue Act is put in place to further legislate the responsibility to develop private civil defense shelters, along with many other provisions 2011
  • First Underground Master Plan (UMP) for Helsinki is put into place 2011
  • Most recent revision to the UMP is put in place 2021

Narrative[edit | edit source]

Following World War Two, specifically the Russo-Finnish War (also known as the Winter War) from 1939 to 1940, Finland was in a worrying position in terms of their national security. The Soviets took about 6% of Finnish land in the Treaty of Moscow and, moving into the Cold War, continued to threaten Finland. In an effort to maintain their security, Finland declared that they would not join NATO (The North Atlantic Treaty Organization). This left them as the border between the Soviet Union and NATO until the Soviet Union fell and the Cold War ended. During this time, Finland began its program of civil defense shelters. The underground shelters were built all around the country. Civil defense shelters provide protection for the population particularly against a military threat in areas where people normally move, live and go to work. Civil defense shelters protect against the effects of explosions and splinters, collapse of buildings, blasts, radiation and substances hazardous to health.[1] The Finnish government built many of these shelters near large public areas where people may not be able to find shelter otherwise and made their metro stations able to serve as civil defense shelters[3]. In 2022, Finland had 50,500 civil defense shelters with space for a total of 4.8 million people. The majority of the shelters (approximately 85%) are private, reinforced concrete shelters in individual buildings.[1]

As the threat of war became less and less of a concern, the Finnish government still wanted to use the vast amount of underground space they had built up for defense. Private shelters were mainly used for storage, while public shelters were used as sports halls, metro stations, and parking space.[1] Helsinki, the capital of Finland, took this push underground in stride. Believed to be one of the only cities with an underground master plan, Helsinki has developed underground infrastructure that is uncommon in other cities. This includes underground power stations, cold water reservoirs, utility tunnels, heat pumps, etc. all of which are interconnected through a series of tunnels that go throughout the city [Development for Urban Underground Space in Helsinki]. In addition to infrastructure, there are also many recreational, cultural sites, and public utilities, including but not limited to[4]:

  • Amos Rex - This underground annex of the Amos Anderson Art Museum is famous for its weaving of an above ground plaza and underground art museum. It opened in 2018 and is one of Helsinki's most popular attractions.
  • Temppeliaukio "Rock" Church - An underground church that was built in 1969 and represents one of Helsinki's earliest underground constructions. It hosts regular services and serves as a concert venue due to the unique acoustics of its bedrock walls.
  • The Ring Rail Line - This metro line connects Helsinki Airport and the adjacent Aviapolis commercial district to the Helsinki commuter rail network. The Ring Rail Line was inaugurated in 2015 and stretches 18 kilometers.
  • Kamppi Shopping Centre - This shopping center in downtown Helsinki also serves as a hub for an underground bus route that serves as another form of public transport. There are also underground pedestrian paths that connect to other shopping centers.
  • Itäkeskus Swimming Hall - This civil defense shelter serves as both a gym and swimming hall for around a 1000 visitors at a time and around 400,000 people a year. It can also be converted to a shelter that can support up to 3800 people.

Key Actors and Institutions[edit | edit source]

Ministry of Interior

  • Since 1958, the Finnish Ministry of Interior has been responsible for the construction, inspection, and regulation of civil defense shelters. They provide detailed information for shelter requirements, including necessary provisions, and a detailed map of closest shelters to make sure as many people have access as possible[2]
  • Under the Rescue Act of 2011, the Ministry of Interior also made building owners responsible for creating private civil defense shelters if their building was large enough. These private shelters are able to be used for storage, recreation, and other uses during peace time. Under the 72 hour provision, these private shelters, as well as the larger public shelters, must be able to fully convert back to civil defense shelters within 72 hours of an alert (such as a natural disaster or armed conflict).[2]

Helsinki City Council

  • The Helsinki City Council is responsible for the Underground Master Plan (UMP), as well as planning how the city as a whole will develop. The new underground master plan promotes a more diverse use of the underground facilities, more systematic utilization of facilities constructed in the bedrock and better coordination between different types of operations.[5]

Helsinki Real Estate Department

  • The Real Estate Department’s Geotechnical Division qualified the areas and elevation levels in Helsinki that are suitable for the construction of large, hall-like spaces. They been the main designer responsible for the preliminary and construction-phase planning required for the rock construction of the utility tunnels, the underground wastewater treatment plant and the treated wastewater discharge tunnel. The facilities designed by the Geotechnical Division include tunnel lines, halls, vertical shafts and the necessary access tunnels.[6]

Funding and Financing[edit | edit source]

While much of the financing information is not available for much of the Finnish Underground network, there are a few publicly available measures of its costs. The average price per cubic meter of tunnels and underground spaces in Finland is EUR 100/m3 (including excavation, rock reinforcement, grouting and underdrainage). The reason for the low cost of tunneling in Finland is due to the practice of not using cast concrete lining in hard rock conditions, effective D&B technology and extensive experience of working in urban areas.[7] Additional expenses are saved since multiple users are using the same spaces and public facilities. Temperatures of underground can be regulated easier than in the surface.

The raw water for the Helsinki region comes from Lake Päijänne (to the north of Helsinki) via a rock tunnel measuring more than 100 km. Its main investor and designer was the metropolitan area Water Company PSV. Tunnel construction started in 1972 and was completed in 1982 at a cost of some EUR 200 million (adjusted for inflation in 2011).[6]

The Viikinmäki wastewater treatment plant is the central plant for treating wastewater from six towns and cities. It is less than 10 km from the center of Helsinki. The plant treats 280,000 m3 of wastewater from about 750,000 inhabitants daily. The plant was completed with a cost of approximately EUR 180 million and began operating in 1994. This wastewater plant replaced 10 smaller, above-ground wastewater treatment plants, freeing up land for other uses.[6] To reduce costs and to make maintenance easier, extensive planning was implemented in the construction of the underground bunkers. Rather than having pipes and lines being buried underground/beneath facilities, they are instead built in pre-made tunnels. These same tunnels serve as passageways to make commute times shorter for both civilians and crew members. The tunnels are also built to last for at least 1 decade, needing minimal maintenance.[8]

Other cities in Finland have also began to build underground bunkers or facilities. Their costs aren’t known, but in the city of Tampere, a parking cave for almost 1000 cars began construction in 2009 and ended in 2012. The cost to build the parking cave was 75 million euros.[8] The Capital of northern Finland, Oulu, has also began underground construction, but costs aren't publicly available.

Lessons/ Takeaways[edit | edit source]

The Finnish Underground is a case study about the benefits of underground development. Using its natural resources, and its flat topography, Finland has moved much of its infrastructure underground. This has allowed for development on the land that would otherwise be used by water treatment and power plants. Public transport, including metro, bus, and pedestrian paths, are also underground, which allows for green spaces and smaller roads. The UMP allows for further development of underground car parks and other infrastructure, which further frees up space. The push of utilities underground not only serves to free up space, it also allows for better interconnectedness of utilities through maintenance tunnels that are separate from general traffic.

These underground projects, as well as the adoption of an UMP, would be a benefit to cities around the world. This push underground could reduce urban sprawl by pulling utilities from the urban extent to under the city. Many cities have some forms of infrastructure underground, but it is an untapped field that could be developed even more. With the increase in severity of natural disasters and weather events in general, putting utilities underground may also protect them from damage and protect the network from disruption.

However, these same underground projects also neglect a portion of the population who don't live in or near cities. Rural people, and to some extent, suburban people have inadequate access to these shelters. About 14% of the Finnish population (which is about 800,000 people) do not have proper access to the underground shelters.[9]

Future Impact[edit | edit source]

The future impact of the Finnish Underground seems bright. The Helsinki UMP has rock-resources to develop further underground projects and has plans for an ambitious tunnel project between Helsinki and Tallinn, Estonia. The planned tunnel linking Helsinki and Tallinn would cost some 16 billion euros to build, according to a report published in Tallinn. The tunnel would be 215 meters below sea level at its deepest. Each day the report envisages the Helsinki-Tallinn link would have capacity for some 40 passenger trains, 11 car trains, 17 lorry transporters and 3 freight trains. The proposed tunnel’s track, tunnel and stations would cost between 13.8 billion and 20 billion euros to build and is proposed to start construction in 2025.[10]

In terms of border security and the need for civil defense shelters, Finland is in a less favorable position. As of April 4th 2023, Finland has officially joined NATO. This breaks the long standing neutrality that Finland has held to appease its neighbor Russia. After the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, Finnish citizens' support for joining NATO increased dramatically.[11] Finland's network of civil defense shelters may need to be put to the test if Russia continues its outward aggression towards its neighbors.

Finnish Underground Sustainable[edit | edit source]

The Helsinki underground bunkers can house the entire population of the city at 630,000 in the event of an emergency. Estimates put that the shelter can occupy a maximum of 850,000 to 900,000 people. Every bunker has enough food and water for up to 2 weeks. In the event of an attack, the bunkers can withstand a nuclear bomb (up to 6 bars of pressure). A 2nd door also protects against chemical attacks. Bombs can be dropped above, all while children play happily below ground.[12]

A region where some of the Finnish Underground is being built is called the Greater Helsinki area. In Helsinki there is a population of 1.3 million people. The land is flat, and the bedrock in Helsinki is ideal for building underground, also only 6.4% of the land area of Helsinki is unnamed rock reservations without a purpose. This means that there is a lot of room for an underground network. There is also a plan to expand the Finnish Underground system quite a bit according to the picture.

Finnish Underground

In order to have a sustainable underground area, we need to get perspectives from “stakeholders, communities, geoscientists, engineers, urban planners”(Loretta von der Tann et al, 2021). All of these groups' perspectives are vital to the success of underground projects. When building an underground space, we have to clear it out first to make it usable.

Geotechnical engineers and geoscientists need to be more upfront on talking about challenges that come with the geology of the area to help better inform people working on the project. Because of this issue some buildings are not cost efficient and require more maintenance and are not as sustainable as they could potentially be. Also, we need to keep in mind that  underground space is a non-renewable resource and must be used wisely.

Maps & Diagrams[edit | edit source]

Discussion Questions[edit | edit source]

  • Will this influence other countries or cities to build their own underground cities?
  • What utilities could you see moving underground in the future?
  • Do you think that investing into large-scale underground projects is worth it?
  • Are large underground bunkers really feasible against conventional invasions?

References[edit | edit source]

  1. a b c d "Civil defence shelters - Ministry of the Interior". Sisäministeriö. Retrieved 2023-04-10.
  2. a b c d "Civil defence | Rescue services". Finnish Rescue Services. Retrieved 2023-04-10.
  3. "Civil defence shelters -". Retrieved 2023-04-10.
  4. "Underground Helsinki". My Helsinki. Retrieved 2023-04-10.
  5. "Underground Master Plan". Helsingin kaupunki. Retrieved 2023-04-10.
  6. a b c Vahaaho, Ilkka (2013). "0-LAND USE: UNDERGROUND RESOURCES AND MASTER PLAN IN HELSINKI" (PDF). The Society for Rock Mechanics & Engineering Geology (Singapore): 29–42. {{cite journal}}: line feed character in |title= at position 38 (help)
  7. Vähäaho, Ilkka (2016-05). "An introduction to the development for urban underground space in Helsinki". Tunnelling and Underground Space Technology. 55: 324–328. doi:10.1016/j.tust.2015.10.001. ISSN 0886-7798. {{cite journal}}: Check date values in: |date= (help)
  8. a b Vähäaho, Ilkka (2014-10-01). "Underground space planning in Helsinki". Journal of Rock Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering. 6 (5): 387–398. doi:10.1016/j.jrmge.2014.05.005. ISSN 1674-7755.
  9. "Rural population (% of total population) - Finland | Data". Retrieved 2023-04-12.
  10. "Report: Helsinki-Tallinn tunnel would cost 16 billion euros, journey time 30 minutes, tickets 18 euros each way". News. 2018-02-07. Retrieved 2023-04-10.
  11. "Finland Officially Joins NATO. Here's What You Need to Know". Time. 2023-04-04. Retrieved 2023-04-10.
  12. Keane, Daniel (2022-05-26). "Finland reveals underground bunkers which can 'withstand nuclear bomb'". Evening Standard. Retrieved 2023-04-12.


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