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Built cultural environment

The buildings and built areas of varying ages in cities, rural centres and the countryside, connecting transport routes, and energy networks all form the built cultural environment. The built environment has gradually been developed since the prehistoric period and the Middle Ages, continuing through the eras of the Swedish Kingdom, Russian Empire and independent Finland. Most of Finland’s built environment is from the period when the welfare state was being built. In the second half of the 20th century, environments of education, healthcare, housing, work and leisure began to be constructed in the country.

Protecting buildings and environments is a way of preserving culture-historical sites. Typically, buildings and built environments are protected through means of planning – with local detailed plans, local master plans and regional land-use plans – which is the responsibility of municipalities and joint municipal authorities. Land-use planning is based on the Land-Use and Building Act. A municipality’s land-use planner or construction inspection office will provide information on whether a building or area is protected by a zoning plan. Several municipalities publish their updated plans on their websites.

Buildings are also protected with specific laws: the Act on the Protection of the Built Heritage, Church Act and Act on the Orthodox Church.

A protection decision, based on the regulations of a land-use plan or a specific act, specifies which parts or features are protected. Such focal points may include the facade, fixed structures or the building surroundings. Protection means that the condition of a building or environment must be maintained in accordance with the protection requirements. Repairs and other measures must be undertaken in a way that preserves the site’s culture-historical value.

Land-use planning and the cultural environments
The cultural environments of churches
The built heritage of the state
Protection under the Act on the Protection of the Built Heritage

The protection of the built environment and a repair project on a protected building must be based on information produced by inventories and various types of cultural environment surveys. Research data that has been systematically acquired, recorded and published forms the foundation for defining the values and goals, as well as planning the necessary measures and approaches.

An inventory or another type of survey describes the current condition of a specific environment and analyses the historical developments leading to it. The sites, areas and themes of inventories vary. The most extensive ones may cover the entire country, a province or a municipality. More commonly, however, inventories are made on smaller, limited areas, such as city centres, neighbourhoods, population centres, villages with their cultivated areas, and coastal areas. An inventory may also focus on a limited theme, such as educational institutions, healthcare environments or industrial districts.

Inventory projects are conducted according to separately agreed principles and methods, within the framework of available resources and the planned schedule. The result will be a systematic and illustrative research report on the inventory area, its history, and the characteristics and features of various ages present at the time of the inventory. The features’ culture-historical significance is assessed based on the information on the area, site and building.

The culture-historical inventories and surveys on the built environment are needed in land-use planning and the planning phases preceding the zoning process, such as the development programmes, general land-use plans, and design competitions. Furthermore, architectural policy programmes and cultural environment programmes are also based on the existing knowledge about the environment.

Inventories, programmes and surveys produce information, promote the participation of various operators, and enable a consensus to be reached.

A building history survey is more detailed than an inventory. A survey provides information about the entire history of a single building or a building group. This information is utilised when making repairs, altering a building’s purpose, creating land-use plans and protection goals, and defining values. Surveys conducted at various sites for different purposes vary in scope and focal points.

A building history survey evaluates a site’s current condition and the progress leading to it: the building’s history as well as its planning, implementation and alteration phases. By combining and comparing information gained from archives and other sources and through fieldwork, the extent to which the plans from various eras concerning a building have been implemented and how well the building’s different parts have been preserved can be evaluated.

The results from a building history survey are compiled into an illustrative report. Drawings, graphs and photographs taken at various times are used to describe the building, its alteration phases, and how these phases are currently visible.

The majority of buildings in Finland were constructed in the second half of the 20th century, when the country was urbanised and an unprecedented number of new residential areas, educational facilities and various well-being services were built. Information on this period and its built environment, as well as on the functional practices regarding inventories, surveys, land-use planning and repair projects, is published on the website Rakennettu hyvinvointi (‘Built well-being’)