Four steps to better renovation projects

Marja Kallio

Marja Kallio is a trailblazer in Finnish building renovation. When starting a new project she sets up her project framework for it, cares for the people on the project, puts her glasses on and gets to know the story of the building in question.

“I’ve always been the first to do things that haven’t had a ready blueprint or directions.

My career path began with my licentiate’s thesis in 1987. At the time, companies were just constructing new buildings, but I had an insightful professor who was looking further into the future. He foresaw that building renovation was posed to become a field which would require knowledge and skill. In terms of studying building renovation, I was at the right place at the right time. After finishing with my studies, I joined Skanska to lead their building renovation unit.

The pinnacle of my achievement there was to win the Vuoden työmaa (Site of the year) competition hosted by Rakennuslehti, the premier construction industry publication in Finland. The site, the renovation of Porthania (Helsinki University’s main building), was the first renovation project to win the award. I’ve had the privilege of pioneering building renovation in Finland.

My work is guided by a few principles; they’re the foundation I build all of my projects on.

1. To guarantee success for a renovation project, you must start by compiling your framework

A building that is about to be renovated has had its life and its renovation needs, and there may be a need to add new functionalities to it. It’s important to first recognise what needs to be renovated as well as the challenges of bringing in new functionality – and this in turn will give you a solid idea of the associated costs. The cost has to be understood through the cash flow: how is the funding constructed and where are investments flowing in from? If I didn’t start off by compiling my project framework and setting some goals, I would have no idea where I’d end up.

2. Success in renovation is always up to the people involved

You have to value the skills that the professionals on the project team bring to the table – and they need to see that I value them. It keeps motivation high – and motivation is the juice that powers these projects. Different people are motivated by different things, and I as the project lead have to know how to recognise them. I’ve sometimes miscalculated, but usually people are happy when you give them a chance to succeed.

3. It’s useful to think about what’s useful to think about

When seeing a project through, I like to say I put my glasses on – that means I choose a particular viewpoint. When I have my glasses on, I hone in on a particular subject or goal that runs through the entire project, and set a level of ambition for it. At Skanska, our ambition was to win the Vuoden työmaa award. Then we set our minds to that goal until we reach it.

4. Every building has its story

I want to approach building renovation as a humane engineer. When I’m renovating, I’m building new on top of old. This means I need to know the construction physics of the building thoroughly. Stories matter when renovating: what was the original purpose of the building? What has it been used for and what has it seen? An understanding of the history of a building helps me solve problems and produce the best end-result for my client.”

Marja Kallio Licentiate of Science (Technology) Marja Kallio grew up in a family of builders. When completing her studies, unlike her peers, she specialised in renovation building. She has worked in management and leadership positions at Skanska and NCC, and was the founder of the Tekes technology programme for the property investment industry. RealCase Oy, of which she is the founder, is now part of Premico.