Urban Mill – a creative hub of urban innovations

Urban Mill – a creative hub of urban innovations

A new meeting place and workspace for enterprises, researchers and cities has opened in Otaniemi. The Urban Mill was launched in January 2013 as part of the EUE research program. The cooperating partners are Aalto University, Aalto University Properties Ltd, the City of Espoo, and RYM Ltd.

Urban Mill is a content-driven facility where public and private sector actors and research institutes can engage in creative, interactive and continuous cooperation that supports constant learning. The 1,300 sqm facility growing to the side of the Design Factory and the Startup Sauna brings together researchers, innovators and users of the built environment, urban services and urban life. Ubiquitous ICT connects the expertise of different parties.

According to CEO Ari Ahonen, RYM Ltd is interested especially in the development of the Business Lab section into a facility where companies can develop and test new urban ideas and business concepts.

– The building has previously housed the VTT Wood Laboratory and most recently the Inspecta test laboratory. The facilities were handed over to us at the end of January. A proto phase lasting three months will begin after clean-up and repairs. During that period the concept will be refined to make it work and the roles and division of labor between the parties will be defined more clearly. The application process required for a change of use will be launched at the same time, says Kari Mikkelä of Järvelin Design Oy, the company orchestrating the project.

– Enterprises and other actors interested in urban innovations are already welcome to test the Urban Mill. The operational model and the roadmap will be finalized during the spring with the pioneering users. During the proto phase, supplementary financing will also be acquired to ensure the continuation of the activity also in the coming years, continues Mikkelä´s co-worker Lars Miikki.

Working together across boundaries

At the Urban Mill, city planners and zoners can work together with top experts of various sectors to develop future city visions and solutions. Architects of the City of Espoo are working in this interactive space already at the pilot phase. Utilization of the premises has also been brainstormed with several other actors. The Design Factory, for instance, will arrange courses and other events are also planned for the large hall.

The premises and concept of the Urban Mill have already aroused wide interest both in Finland and abroad. Dozens of groups have visited the site.

According to Mikkelä, the whole concept is innovative in many ways. Traditionally a real estate company leases premises, but the premises of the Urban Mill are sold as services that also include research contents. The original single-tenant model has evolved into a service operator model involving many actors.

The Urban Mill is both physically and intellectually closely connected to the activities of the adjacent Design Factory and Startup Sauna, as well as the Aalto Learning Hub network. Its key forms of activity will be multidisciplinary research cooperation, active enterprise-university cooperation, and regional innovation service. Right from the outset, international cooperation will be conducted, for example, with MIT and Stanford University.