• City Center
  • Urban Design
Leppävaara | Finland

Leppävaara is the name of the city center of Espoo, the second largest city in Finland. The city center is heavily urbanized and intersected by bundles of busy roads, railways, and large paved parking areas. Currently, the city center has a monotonous urban program, with Finland’s largest shopping center on the southern side and 1980s-era shopping and office locations on the northern side of the center. The city of Espoo launched a two-phase international competition for ideas and designs for the transformation into a socially ecological inclusive city center, with ample space for pedestrians, greenery, new connections, and mixed urban programs.

Client: City of Espoo, SAFA
Year: 2023
Partner: Planetary Architecture, Raivio Bumann, SRV & Ramboll
Status: 4e Prijs, international competition
Type: Masterplan
Location: Leppävaara | Finland
Program: Mixed programme, (social) housing, retail, offices, social welfare programme, care cluster & a day-care centre.
Urban planning: ECHO Urban Design
Landscape design: ECHO Urban Design
Architecture: ECHO Urban Design & Planetary Architecture

Social ecological city

The new center of Leppävaara is redefining itself and emerges as an exceptional social ecological inclusive urban centre. Exemplary both in local and global scale, the city centre is human scale, accessible and ecologically layered and greatly differs from conventional centres characterised by traffic structures, parking lots and generic architectural identity.

Super Connected

Public transport, cyclists and new (shared)mobility concepts take precedence over car usage. These systems, public transport stops, and bicycle parking spaces are strategically placed and interconnected through the newly introduced ‘Superplus.’ This hybrid public building structure functions partly as an urban living room connected with a public bridge system, in north-south and east-west direction and serves as a public transport station terminal. The Superplus is programmed with public and flexible amenities. Spaces are rented out as event venues, flexible workspaces, exhibition spaces, auditoriums, related catering, and conference rooms. The Superplus literally and figuratively connects with all major modalities in the area, giving the entire region a social and iconic impact.

Socially Anchored

The guiding urban design concept with integral greenery will be reinforced by pedestrian network traverses, they branch out widely, and will connect with surrounding neighborhoods and districts. By bridging the busy main infrastructure with walking routes, it will soon be possible to comfortable stroll, walk or cycle in between outdoor terraces of restaurants and cafés, innovative ecological housing concepts, meeting and event spaces, and various hubs with commercial and social programs. The pedestrian network is designed for all ages of the local community to move around freely and safely.

Nature Embraced

In the center of Leppävaara, social and ecological structures serve as foundational and compelling principles for urban design. The surrounding, somewhat concealed wooded and recreational areas are taken as referential guidelines and drawn into the city center, where they create attractive public green space. By combining the greenery with a qualitative stormwater system, a continuous and robust ecological network forms that transforms open spaces, streets, and parking areas into a healthy, and green urban oasis, providing resilience and vitality for both society and biodiversity.

Carbon Neutral Development

The plan places the highest value on sustainability. This is done by the introduction of extensive native greenery, a robust water system, and an innovative mobility system and is also translated into the built concepts. Recognizing that development will take place over 10 or 20 years, the plan embraces both low-tech and high-tech approaches, focusing on system-thinking and adaptive structures that enable technological advancements. The aim is achieving carbon neutrality in both the planning area and buildings and demands a holistic approach across their life cycles.

Nature Embraced

The green and water concept is robust and continuous. We create a plan with 46% green space in the competition area. The green structure is the base of the water system and provides extensive infiltration and buffering capabilities. It significantly contributes to nurturing a diverse and thriving ecological structure within the open ground and soil, fostering biodiversity, mitigating urban heat islands, and enhancing the overall environmental quality of the area.

Theme maps


The green structure serves as a drainage system and plays a crucial role in capturing and directing rainwater. In the west area the water system starts by collecting rainwater from the roofs of the buildings and the surface area in the public and collective spaces. The water is then directed to lower areas on the ground level, where specially designed zones collect it. Here, it gradually infiltrates into the soil, providing a sustainable and natural addition to the water supply. This process helps reduce the risk of flooding and supports the ecological balance of the environment by promoting groundwater replenishment and preserving local waterways, such as the nearby creek.


The urban design in the central area revolves around strategically located robust green structures that are interconnected and designed to retain rainwater and efficiently manage stormwater. These green structures are integrated into the street grid, inner streets, and squares. Like in the west area, the rainwater is collected on the roofs of the surrounding buildings and when necessary discharged into the green structure, allow for a resilient network that can withstand periods of dryness and heavy rainfall.

Existing Trees

A key objective of this plan is to prioritize the preservation of existing mature trees, if it’s not possible to maintain valuable trees, they will be replanted on locations which are prone to the heat island effect. By conserving the valuable trees and the forested areas, the area’s natural character is maintained while harmonizing it with urban development. This approach not only promotes sustainable water management but also ensures the preservation of the local ecosystem’s integrity and resilience.

Urban Program

All plinths of the new and transformed city center contribute to a vibrant, social, economically resilient, and entrepreneurial urban climate. Concentration points The health care center, office spaces and hotel are strategically placed in the central area and rise above the lively plinths. Small businesses, co-working spaces, restaurants, and cafés are located along a network of squares and plazas that accompany the main pedestrian routes. The squares and plazas also provide space for these functions in the form of an outdoor terrace or an temporary event location.

Would you like to know more about this project?

Robbert Jan will be happy to tell you about it.