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Making the world a better place to live and work in

As Finland’s Strategic Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation of the Built Environment, RYM was created as a public-private initiative to promote a novel and more agile way for companies and organisations to work together and develop cutting-edge expertise covering the entire life span of the built environment. Addressing the massive challenge that global urbanisation represents is a particular focus area.

The cities we live in, the offices and factories that we work in, and the roads and rail lines that we travel on form part of an intricate, inter-related, and increasingly complex infrastructure – and one that should, ideally, enable society to flourish, businesses to succeed, and people’s wellbeing to develop and improve. The importance of ensuring that the built environment keeps pace with the changing needs of society and the challenges facing the global community cannot be underestimated, therefore.

RYM was founded in 2009 as Finland’s Strategic Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation of the Built Environment in response to this imperative – to offer real estate and construction sector companies, research organisations, and universities a novel, more agile, and more proactive way of working together to develop and promote cutting-edge expertise in a cross-section of areas related to the built environment.

The importance of ensuring that the built environment keeps pace with the changing needs of society and the challenges facing the global community cannot be underestimated.

A new type of public-private initiative

Like the other strategic centres that have been created in Finland recently – covering the bioeconomy, energy and the environment, metals and engineering, ITC, and health and well-being – RYM represents a new business concept in the Finnish innovation system.

RYM’s role is to act as a venture for intellectual capital dedicated to sourcing and brokering financing, launching research programmes in selected spearhead areas to develop new market opportunities, and acting as a portal for those wanting to benefit from the fruits of these programmes. As part of this, RYM sees its job very much as being to encourage and assist its partners in breaking away from linear research thinking and adopting a much more simultaneous approach to researching, developing, and commercialising new products and services.

RYM currently has 53 shareholders and invests private and public funds and know-how in areas that have the potential to generate superior, world-class expertise, services, and products – in a sector where Finland’s trade balance is expected to increase from some €2 billion today to €5 billion by 2020 and where national investment in R&D and innovation is expected to double over the same time frame.

A mix of research initiatives

RYM’s research strategy focuses on four main themes – energy efficiency, processes and operational models, competitive urban infrastructure, and user-friendly spaces. All of these will play a crucial role in how we, as societies, face up to issues such as urbanisation, climate change, and sustainability.

Three fixed-term research programmes have been launched by RYM to date: Built Environment Process Re-Engineering (PRE); Indoor Environments; and Energizing Urban Ecosystems (EUE).

The first of these, PRE, was launched in 2010 and will run until 2013. PRE is concentrating on developing new procedures and business models for the real estate, construction, and infra sectors. The aim is to create approaches that are more user-centred and supported by product model-based data management over the entire life cycle of real estate, infrastructure, and communities, and are capable of leveraging a significant increase in productivity and quality.

The PRE programme has brought together 43 participants from 37 companies and six research institutes to see how things like building information modelling, industrialised building supply chains, real-estate life cycle management, urban planning, and tailoring space management to the needs of knowledge work more effectively can be developed.

RYM’s Indoor Environment research programme, for its part, is concentrating on how to promote the productivity, satisfaction, and health of space users in an ecologically sustainable manner – through more user-centric spaces and managing them in an energy-efficient way, new revenue models for good indoor environments, and designing and implementing inspiring learning environments.

Launched in 2011 and lasting until 2014, the Indoor Environment programme involves a research consortium of 31 companies and 10 research institutes.

RYM’s research strategy focuses on four main themes – energy efficiency, processes and operational models, competitive urban infrastructure, and user-friendly spaces.

A multidisciplinary hub of excellence

The four-year Energizing Urban Ecosystems (EUE) programme – the most recent of RYM’s research programmes – was launched in 2012 to focus on new operational models and solutions to the challenges posed by the ever-expanding urbanisation of today’s world. The goal is to create user-centric, competitive urban solution concepts that can make a useful contribution to both greenfield and brownfield projects.

The aim of the programme is to draw on the Finnish experience in developing a modern welfare state, advanced cleantech capabilities, and ICT – and combine this with some of the best expertise elsewhere – to create an internationally recognised and multidisciplinary hub of excellence for urban development and a globally networked cooperation platform for R&D in the urban planning and development field.

DigiEcoCity, working alongside KONE, Fortum, the City of Helsinki, Adminotech, and the Helsinki Region Environmental Services Authority.

As part of the programme, Aalto University will establish the Urban Mill on its main campus in Otaniemi, Espoo as a base for public and private sector actors and research institutes to collaborate and where people such as city planners can sit down with experts from a number of different fields to develop new visions and solutions for tomorrow’s cities.

The plan is to model, simulate, and test the concepts developed in the EUE programme in the Espoo T3 area (Tapiola-Otaniemi-Keilaniemi) in conjunction with the development of the new Ă–stersundom area in eastern Helsinki. They will also be tested in urban development projects in China.

> Ari Ahonen
(Published in HighTech Finland 2013)