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Sweco designed an eye-catching facade and large-scale technical implementation for Ficolo’s data centre in Vantaa

The amount of data is growing quickly, which increases the need for larger, more energy-efficient and technically more complex data centres.

The large, windowless halls hide a great deal of different technology inside them. As a rule, data centres don’t do much for the view. However, “The Air” centre of Ficolo data centre company is an eye-catching structure as its facade, made of aluminium plates, moves with the wind.“Ficolo challenged us to think how the facade of the company’s new data centre could be utilised in a way that would make it more symbolic while also adding to the company’s brand image,” says Sweco’s principal designer for Ficolo’s project, Tapani Virkkala, an architect specialised in data centre design.Sweco has been involved in several data centre projects. In Ficolo’s project, Sweco’s team was in charge of architectural and structural design as well as the HVAC, electricity and building automation design.

Designing a data centre requires special competence, as the buildings are often technical units of massive scale.

“Technology is at the centre of the entire design process,” states Sweco’s architect Stefan Vara, who was in charge of Ficolo’s design process with Virkkala.

The amount of data is growing quickly, which also increases the need for new data centres with even higher capacity. The technology is also advancing, which requires the designers to continuously update their competence, according to Virkkala and Vara.

Something old and something new

Ficolo comprises both old and new structural elements, as it was built into an existing industrial hall, which was expanded further. Sweco’s Iikka Ylihärsilä, who worked as the Ficolo project’s structural engineer, says that bringing modern technology into old structures always sets its own challenges.

“We don’t always have all the initial data available from old buildings or it may not be up to date. Surprises are a given when structures are not where they have been expected to be,” Ylihärsilä says.

According to him, the structural engineering process was also challenged by the construction materials used and the different requirements for the premises.

“A new, steel-structure hall was built inside the old building, like a box inside another box. In turn, the expansion part, with an impressive facade made of aluminium plates, has a concrete frame. In addition to the various technology facilities required by the data centre, the building also houses an office section,” Ylihärsilä says.

Free-cooling and environmentally friendly data centre

The CO2 emissions of data centres are now globally on the same level with the emissions of air traffic. As the capacity continues to grow, it is significant how the electricity needed by these centres is generated.

Ficolo’s Vantaa centre is an environmentally friendly data centre that has received the best possible “Dark Green” rating granted by a climate research institute. All electricity used by the centre is generated with fully renewable forms of energy.

“The heat loss generated by cooling the servers is fed into the district heating network of Vantaan Energia energy company,” says Sweco’s Jussi Alilehto, who was in charge of the centre’s building technology engineering. The same green energy is thereby used once in the data centre and then recycled to other locations through the heating network.

The cooling system also includes free cooling, which is based on utilising the cool outdoor air. It needs very little energy and can be used almost all year round. According to Alilehto, future requirements have also been taken into account in the design solutions.

“Thanks to the flexible solutions, we can use a cooling method that best suits the current situation and we will not be bound to just one alternative in the future, either.”