Vanhankaupunginlahti bay nature reserve is the largest conservation area in Helsinki. The wetland area is protected under the Ramsar convention and it is part of the Natura 2000 network. The bay and its islands have a long history of recreational use, considerably related to bird watching. Nowadays the site is very central in Helsinki. The bay is surrounded by the growing city, and an increasing number of citizens are enjoying its recreational values. Nevertheless, the environment is very vulnerable, and it is prohibited to step beyond the marked paths.
In 2016, the city of Helsinki together with Tallinn, started an EU funded project called Nattours. The aim of the project was to improve the accessibility of urban nature by increasing awareness of significant destinations and by removing both physical and mental barriers from hindering visits to the areas. Another goal was to promote nature destinations as the city’s attraction. A website was developed to introduce selected recreation areas. The Lammassaari boardwalk was chosen to be the main objective in Helsinki for improving physical nature trail structures. The existing Lammassaari duckboards were popular but dilapidated. As a part of this project the duckboards were chosen to be replaced with a new, fully accessible boardwalk with accessible bird watching platforms.
Changing sea level, ice, poor soil conditions for foundations and restrictions in working on the protected site were challenges for both design and construction. In this framework, the new, accessible and floating boardwalk was designed in dialogue with the city’s own construction unit. The design consists of two different types of boardwalk elements, a straight one and a curved one. The elements were prefabricated on dry land and brought to the site for installation with light vehicles. Wooden poles framing the path keep the elements in place in varying water level conditions. Occasionally flooding can lift the floating elements more than one metre. The boardwalk and the platforms are made of untreated Siberian larch. The pathway is one and a half metres wide. The width enables assisted walking and passing of wheelchairs or prams. The complete length of the boardwalk is 860 metres. To minimise waste and the use of new material, the pre-existing base structures were maintained. As a design task the project was intriguing. In addition to all the technical and practical requirements, it was essential to create both an aesthetically and spatially interesting route. As the boardwalk leads from the urban bustle to the middle of wilderness, it offers a phenomenal, constantly changing nature experience. The basic level of the boardwalk is very close to sea level meanwhile the surrounding high reeds line the edges of the pathway creating a narrow, corridor-like space. Along the boardwalk there are two slightly elevated platforms for birdwatching, allowing a view over the reeds. The finale of the pathway is an accessible vantage point elevated to three metres. Viewpoints are provided with glass walls to enable unimpeded views from a wheelchair and for children.
The structures were completed in spring 2018. After the renewal of the boardwalk, the number of visitors has increased remarkably. During the summer season 2018 there was an average of over 1000 visitors per day. The project fulfilled its objectives both in improved accessibility and in increased attraction. In Finland the project has been a pioneer in introducing the importance of design and high-quality construction in nature trail structures. It is evident how the design is increasing the public interest and hence promoting the outdoor life and healthy way of living.
Landscape Architect: Nomaji
Other designers involved in the design of landscape: Studio Puisto Architects Ltd.
Other collaborators (construction engineer): Ideastructura Oy
Client: City of Helsinki
Constructor: City of Helsinki
Project location: Lammassaari, Vanhankaupunginlahti, Helsinki, Finland
Design year: 2016
Year Built: 2017-2018
Video credits: Mika Huisman Decopic