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Should we be questioning the safety of buildings in Finland?

July 10, 2012

Note: I am not an engineer, so the following entry is written strictly from a greenhorn perspective…

June 23, 2012: the roof of a shopping centre in Elliot Lake, Ontario partially collapses without warning, killing two women and injuring 22. The condition of the Algo Centre Mall, the search and rescue effort, and the aftermath of the event have been nothing short of a circus. The Canadian media provided blanket coverage of the tragedy, so I won’t even get into that here. It also made headlines around the world. I can direct you to a comprehensive link on CBC that covers the story from the start and includes photos of the damage and the destruction.

Why am I writing about this?

I grew up in Elliot Lake and spent a lot of time at the Algo Centre Mall. I even worked there for a summer at the Woolco department store where I stocked shelves and worked as a cashier. The tragedy that has unfolded in Elliot Lake over the last couple of weeks has weighed heavily on my mind. I didn’t know either of the women who died, but I still have plenty of friends who live and work in Elliot Lake. My mom also works in Elliot Lake and sometimes popped into the mall to run errands. Any one of them could have been a victim…

The Algo Centre Mall was not in good shape, had a leaky roof and it was under continuous maintenance – band-aid fixing say many Elliot Lakers. One key concern is the fact that it had rooftop parking. The structure is over 30 years old and was in a poor state of repair at the time of the collapse. Rooftop parking is a factor in the current investigations because of its exposure to the elements: harsh Northern Ontario winters with extreme cold, heavy snow, periods of freezing and thawing and relentless summer heat. Without proper drainage water seeped into the expansion joints and without proper maintenance the structure began to deteriorate. Global News presents a damning trail of evidence.

So is this something we should worry about in Finland?

I asked a structural engineer at work for her thoughts on what happened in Elliot Lake and I sent her an article to review ahead of our meeting.

What follows are some of her observations. First of all, she was surprised that the building was allowed to be open to the public (especially after I showed her photos of the mall prior to and after the collapse). This would never happen in Finland. If any building shows signs of structural damage or weakness and is reported, construction engineers in Finland have the authority to shut down a building to the public until the problems are rectified.

She reminded me (understandably) that the building codes are probably far different in Finland than in Ontario. In Finland building design is dependent on its location. A building in Helsinki will have a different design (for example, a different type of concrete will be used) than one in say, Rovaniemi. The building designers in Helsinki would have account for proximity to the sea and salt water spray as opposed to the longer and deeper cold at the Arctic Circle.

Buildings in Finland are subject to mandatory maintenance plans that detail plans 5-10 years in the future, which can include things like painting and redoing the precast seams on external surfaces. Older buildings may have bigger plans, like an inspection of the plumbing of the entire building and a plan for possible renewal. Maintenance itself is not mandatory, but should something happen to a building, the maintenance records are the first thing that are pulled in the ensuing investigation. If a building owner neglects a building and damages result because of this neglect, the penalties in Finland can be severe. Many buildings have a so-called board that must review and agree on plans and communicate any renovations that could disrupt normal daily living activities of tenants and residents. This link features a short bit on maintenance of buildings.

In Finland action is taken immediately when there is a serious incident involving a building and damage to life and property. This falls under the auspices of the Finnish Safety Investigation Authority. They investigate, report and make recommendations, basically taking charge of ensuring that things will be rectified. It is fair to say that as soon as something happens, for example, the collapse of the roof of the Paviljonki Congress Centre in Jyväskylä in 2003, it is investigated and fixed.

All other buildings that have the same design or prefabricated elements as Palvijonki would have been shut down immediately and inspected.

Now – back to the shopping malls with rooftop parking. Here in Finland we do have shopping malls with rooftop parking and two come to my mind immediately, The Grani Shopping Centre in Kauniainen and the Iso Omena Shopping Centre in Espoo.

Grani opened in 2001 and an addition was completed in 2008. It has over 30 stores and services. This link presents a pictorial history on how Kauniainen has changed over the years.

The roof of the Grani Shopping Centre in Kauniainen

Iso Omena, in the Matinkylä suburb has 115 stores and services. It was completed in 2001. It has 172 parking places on the roof.

Rooftop parking at Iso Omena in Espoo

Both of these parking lots are situated above stores and services where hundreds of people congregate on any given day.

Are you aware of any other malls in Finland with rooftop parking? Do you think we should bring these issues up – especially with older structures? If you’re concerned, contact the manager of the building in question.

And if you see visible damage to a structure, report it. Authorities in Finland are compelled to act on complaints from the public when it comes to issues of safety in and around buildings.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Sari K. permalink
    July 10, 2012 10:42 am

    Sello has it, too.

    • anonymous permalink
      July 11, 2012 11:30 am

      Are you sure you’re not referring to the building exclusively reserved for parking?
      Beacuse the actual buildings with the shops don’t have it AFAIK.

      • July 11, 2012 11:38 am

        Is your question regarding Iso Omena? I looked at this again in Google Earth and there is indeed rooftop parking aside from the parking garage. If you go to the palvelu taso of Iso Omena and look out the windows at the south end of the mall (where the escalators are), there is a parking lot. Now that Posti is located on the palvelu taso, I wondered how they would do shipping and receiving. Simple – there is vehicular access off the roof.

      • July 11, 2012 11:44 am

        Apparently there is rooftop parking at Sello.

    • July 11, 2012 11:35 am

      I just looked that up Sari (Google Earth)! And yesterday I was at Prisma Olari, where this is rooftop parking too. You can bet I was taking a good look at the roof when I was there…

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