Tallinn architecture 1900-2020. Architecture guide

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Tallinn Architecture

1900-2020 Architecture Guide


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Tallinn Architecture

1900-2020 Architecture Guide

Karin Hallas-Murula

Estonian Museum of Architecture

Designer: Angelika Schneider Translation into English Krista Mits Language editor Richard Adang Photo editor: Jarmo Kauge Maps: Regio ISBN 978-9949-7262-5-7 Supported by: Rand & Tuulberg Merko Ehitus Astlanda Ehitus Ratermann City The Cult ural Endowment of Estonia @Karin Hallas-Muru la (texts) @Krista Mits (translation) @Estonian Museum of Architecture Printed in Raamatutrukikoda




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Between 1992 and 2010 the Museum of

and environmental context. The selection

Estonian Architecture published guides to

criteria for the inclusion of buildings in such

Tallinn's 20th-century architecture in German,

areas (Kalamaja, Kassisaba etc.) are based on

English, Estonian and Finnish. Each new

contextualism, which is admittedly subjective:

edition was revised and expanded. The

what some perceive as a dialogue on creative

English-language architecture guide came

architecture, others consider a radical

out in 2010. Some of the texts from the

intervention. Let architecture lovers who take

previous edition have been included in the

a stroll in different parts of the city come to

current book, they have been edited and

their own conclusions.

updated. Many new objects have been added

Alongside remarkable edifices, typical and

due to the fact that during the last ten years

representative buildings are pointed out in this

the appearance of Tallinn has been radically


transformed: a large number of new buildings and new urban areas have emerged and the

The objective is to offer a broad crosssection of Estonian architectural cu lture.

view of historic neighbourhoods has been

Examples of Stalinist architecture and later

completely changed.

Soviet architecture are also included.

The aim of this architecture guide is not

In selecting the buildings for this guide

to incorporate all of the new buildings or

their location and accessibility have also

organise a "beauty contest" between them.

played an important part. As a rule, private

Unlike the previous editions, the focus in

residences, although of some architectural

selecting the new buildings to be included

interest, have been excluded, since they are

was on sustainability and technological

often hidden behind tall fences and cannot be

modernism, energy performance and

viewed. This is also the reason why buildings

purposefulness. For this reason, some large

for the defence forces have been left out.

buildings, although highly visible in the cityscape, have been ignored. In milieu-protected areas, attention is not paid to just attractive edifices, but also

For further information on Tallinn architecture, contact the Estonian Museum of Architecture, Ratermann Salt Storage, 2 Ahtri, Tallinn.

to new buildings that adapt to the historical Karin Hallas-Murula


A Brief Overview of 20-Century Tallinn Architecture

Tallinn in the early 20th century

had studied or worked in Riga. As a powerful

Tallinn is an old Hanseatic city with a rich

monument to the Russification ideology in the

medieval heritage. It flourished in the 15th

1880s-1890s, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

century and the medieval character of the

was erected on a prominent site on Toompea

core of the city - the Old Town, with its

hill (1900, architect Mikhail Preobrazhensky

town wall towers and streetscape - has been

(No 2 - see the map).

preserved. In 1561-1710 Tallinn was under Swedish

The 1900s saw the arrival of Estonians trained as engineers on the architectural scene,

rule. In the course of the Great Northern

including Voldemar Lender (the first mayor of

War, Tallinn was captured by Peter the Great

Tallinn of Estonian origin), Karl Jurgenson and

and, for the following two centuries, was the

Anton Uesson. Karl Burman, who had studied

capital of a province in the Russian Empire. By

at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts, was a

the second half of the 19th century, Tallinn

member of the first generation of architects

had lost its military importance and, after the

of Estonian nationality. Yet, the winners of

demolition of defensive structures, a green

international architectural competitions were

belt was formed around the Old Town. Areas

St. Petersburg or Helsinki architects, and the

with modest wooden dwellings surrounded

major public buildings in Tallinn were erected

the central part of the city. Industrialisation

according to their designs. In the 191 Os

in Tallinn gained momentum with the

Eliel Saarinen and Armas Lindgren designed

completion of a railway in 1870.

buildings (see Nos 13, 38 and 70) in late Art

At the end of the 19th century, there were a little more than 60,000 inhabitants in

Nouveau or classicised Art Nouveau style. They were emulated later by Estonian architects, in

Tallinn; by 1917 their number had reached

large apartment houses in particular (see Nos

159,000. The population growth was

20 and 108)

highest between 1910 and 1914. Before the

A Finnish orientation was preferred by the

First World War, the Peter the Great naval

Estonians in the 1908 competition to design

fortress complex was laid out and large

the Estonia Theatre (No 70); in contrast, the

industries were set up. Admittedly, it was

Baltic-Germans chose heavy Neo-Romanticism

not comparable to the building boom in

for the architecture of the German Theatre

the neighbouring cities of Riga and Helsinki,

(No 14)

where areas of large stone apartment buildings mushroomed, forming the new city

The focal point of the new city - a new magnificent Town Hall designed by Eliel

centres. In Tallinn wooden houses were built

Saarinen in 1912 - was planned to be built

in great numbers.

on the site of the present-day Viru Hotel. In

Until the late 19th century, the buildings in the Old Town were owned by wealthy

1913 Eliel Saarinen won the international competition to create the master plan of

burghers of Baltic German origin. Their

Tallinn. His grandiose project, "Greater-

attempt to affirm their cultural identity

Tallinn", although overestimating the actual

accounts for the rise of historical revivalism:

growth of the population, was a brave vision

Hanseatic Gothic, Neo-Renaissance and

of the urban development of Tallinn. These

Neo-Mannerism, represented by buildings

plans were thwarted by the outbreak of the

designed by Baltic German architects who

First World War.


The First Republic of Estonia 1918-1940 On 24 February 1918 Estonia was declared

1934 marked the end of parliamentary democracy in Estonia. With Konstantin

an independent republic. Due to the War

Pats as the head of state, an authoritarian

of Independence, the period of postwar

regime was established. He started to rebuild

reconstruction could not begin until after the

Tall inn in order to turn it into an imposing

signing of the Tartu Peace Treaty with Russia

capital city. The idea was to replace all old

on 2 February 1920.

wooden houses with new four- to five-storey

The first important building project of

buildings along the main streets in the centre

the young nation, the Riigikogu (Parliament)

of Tallinn. A series of stately buildings were

building on Toompea, was designed by the

designed: among them multi-storey homes,

Estonian architects Herbert Johanson and

banks and offices. More expensive materials

Eugen Habermann (1922, No 1). In 1921

and decorations appeared on the fac;ades,

the Estonian Association of Architects was

including polished dolomite, granite plaster,

established and the Tallinn Technical School

decorative cornices, pilasters and floral

opened a course in architecture. In the 1920s there was no economic

motifs (Nos 28, 31, 32, 34, 35, 40 etc.). The orientation towards Germany strengthened

stability and, consequently, no major

in Estonian architecture in the second half of

investmen ts in construction were made. A

the 1930s.

new type of house, called the "Ta llinn house", a two-storey wooden structure with a central

As symbols of the new power, the Neoclassical White Hall in the Toompea Castle

staircase of stone, became popular in Tallinn.

was rebuilt (1935- 1936, Artur Perna and

Although conservative in appearance, the

Johann Ostrat) and a Neo-Baroque building

"Tallinn house" is an interesting example of

for the Office of the President was erected in

vernacular architecture (Nos 51 and 187).

Kadriorg Park (1938, Alar Kotli, No 131 ).

The larger buildings erected in the central

Tallinn 's Vabaduse (Freedom) Square was

part of the city were evidence of the more

to become the main square and the War of

advantageous idea of cooperative housing.

Independence monument was planned to

Their architecture was greatly influenced by

be put up there in 1937. Viru Square was

German traditionalist architecture (Nos 104,

planned as a new Town Hall Square. The

109, 200 and 202).

competition for the new town hall was held

Functionalist architecture emerged in

in 1937 . In the same year, an international

Estonia in the late 1920s: Functionalist vil las,

competition to design the Tallinn Art Museum

apartment blocks, schoolhouses and other

was held, wi th the participation of Alvar

public buildings were constructed (Nos 41,

Aalto, Ragnar Ostberg and Gyula Riman6czy.

42, 47, 107 etc.). Functionalist architecture in

The War of Independence monument, the

Estonia was not especially avant-garde. The

Town Hall and the Art Museum were never

idea of Functionalist Siedlungs was carried

built, for several reasons.

out in the housing scheme in Maasika-Vaarika streets (No 208), although on a small scale.


Architecture of the Soviet era

buildings with rich decor. The largest buildings

In 1940 Estonia was incorporated into the

erected in Tallinn were the Naval Officers'

Soviet Union. Maintaining a massive military

House (No 94), the S6prus (Friendship) Cinema

presence in the area, the Soviet authorities

(No 12) and the Art Foundation building (No

started to introduce radical changes into

25). A gigantic House of Soviets and a Victory

the social structure. The first Soviet mass-

monument in the present-day Viru Square

produced buildings were simple two-storey

were planned. Fortunately they were never

wooden structures for working people, as


seen in Nisu, Rukki, L6ime, Puuvilla and Majaka streets. During the period of the German

The construction of industrialised mass housing began in the late 1950s. First, the Mustamae residential district was built. The

occupation (1941-1944), most building

Oismae and Lasnamae residential districts

activity stopped.

were built in the 1970s. By 1965 Tallinn's

In the counter-offensive launched by the Soviet army in March 1944 Tallinn was badly

population had grown to 328,000. Estonian architects began to look to international

damaged: almost half of the total living space

modernism for inspiration in the 1960s.

was destroyed during air raids. A number

Organic architecture was imported from

of architects emigrated (including Herbert

Scandinavian countries after the first trips

Johanson, Elmar Lohk and Olev Siinmaa). The

abroad were made by architects.

Baltic-German architects (among them Erich Jacoby, Robert Natus and Eugen Sacharias)

The Song Festival Stage (No 137) and the Flower Pavilion on Pirita Road (No 140) were

had already left during the resettlement of the

milestones of modern architecture. Carried

Baltic-Germans (Umsiedlung). By the end of

by this wave of modernist enthusiasm, plans

the war the number of architects had declined

were made to enrich the Tallinn skyline

by more than half. The urban population had

with high-rise buildings. The "skyscrapers"

decreased from 164,000 (1938) to 133,000.

in the Estonian context were the 11-storey

In the autumn of 1944 the Soviet authorities

headquarters of the Central Committee of

deported tens of thousands of Estonians to

the Estonian Communist Party (No 72), the

Siberia .

22-storey Viru Hotel (No 91) and the 10-storey

It took a long time to recover from the

Broadcasting Building (No 11 O).

war. The rapid construction of housing was

The second half of the 1970s was filled

seen as the most important task. The ideas

with preparation for the Tallinn sailing regatta

of Stalinist city planning were implemented

of the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games. The

immediately after the war. The Ta llinn master

Olumpia Hotel (No 73), the Yachting Centre

plan was drawn up in 1945 and approved in

at Pirita (No 145) and the Tallinn Sports and

1952. The planners foresaw blocks comprised

Culture Palace (Tallinn Linnahall, No 162) were

of perimetral buildings in the city centre and


wide radiating avenues. A new dominant

In the 1970s-1980s the Tallinn school

aspect in the plan by Anton Soans, Harald

of architecture introduced postmodern

Arman and Otto Keppe was a prospective

architecture (No 19).

esplanade between Lenin (currently Ravala) Blvd. and the Estonia Theatre, lined with

A debate on the redevelopment of Suda and Tatari streets in the 1980s showed that

imposing buildings housing educational and

urban planning had become an issue of public

cultural institutions.

interest. The fight to preserve old wooden

Stalinist architecture arrived in Estonia in the early 1950s, introducing monumental

buildings developed into a fight for the Estonian-ness of Tallinn.


The restoration of the Republic of Estonia . Tallinn in the 1990s

Architecture of the last decade, 2010-2019

During the past ten years there have been a

In 1991 the independent Republic of Estonia

large number of new developments in Tallinn.

was re-established. On the w hole, the early

Architecture has become more attractive

1990s was an optimistic period. The surge

and experimental, with the use of diverse

of national feelings, the departure of Russian

materials and innovative technologies. Good

troops and the restoration of Estonian

architecture depends on quality construction,

statehood made everyone hopeful. The

and complicated projects have enhanced

opening of the borders generated a belief that

collaboration between leading construction

Tallinn wou ld attract big investments. From

firms and architects.

that time there are designs for magnificent

The construction of the Ulemiste

skyscrapers to be erected in the central part

Technopolis in Lasnamae, the biggest of

of Tallinn: the Astlanda, the Sheraton and the

its kind in the Baltics, is still underway. The

Oli.lmpia-2 hotels; none of them were realised .

Noblessner culture and arts complex is being

The transition to a market economy

expanded, and the Sitsi residential area is

led to significant changes in architecture.

developing . New living environments and

Large state-run planning and design firms

office landscapes are emerging. New hom es

disintegrated and small architectural firms

are soon to be completed in Toomkuninga,

were created. A w ide range of building

and the whole new residentia l area of

materials became available.

Veerenni is emerging. A new project is a

As capital accumulated, bank buildings,

30-floor skyscraper in Maakri Street. There

offices and supermarkets popped up in

is brisk building activity near the harbour

Tallinn. The symbols of a new life were the

area and on the Kopli peninsu la. The Pirita

high-rise buildings of SEB Bank (1998, No 80)

Promenade is being designed. All this and

and the Radisson Hotel (2000, No 78). In 1994 the largest international architectural competition ever held in Estonia to design the Kumu Art Museum (No 132) was won by the Finnish architect Pekka Vapaavuori. However, it took ten years to build the museum (it was completed in 2005 and opened to the public in 2006) . A lively architectural scene and internationa l contacts linked Estonian architects with the rest of the world. However, the practice of international competitions led to the most important buildings being designed by foreign architects. The winner of the design competitions for the National Broadcasting Building (2007) was the Danish architect Erik Nobel, and for the Estonian Art Academy building (2008) the Danish architectural offices SEA and Effekt. In 2009 the competition for the Tallinn City Hall was won by the Dan ish Bjarke Ingels Group. None of these designs was realised .


much more will hopefully be the subject of future architecture guides.



1a Lossi

The Parliament of Estonia building Architects Herbert Johanson and Eugen Habermann, 1922

The cei ling of the foyer is coffered and The new parliament building is situated on

the balustrades repeat the zigzag motif of

the site of the former Teutonic Castle (13th-

the rooms. The most important room is the

15th cents .). The parliament was the most

Session Hall, w ith its Expressionistic ceiling. It

important institution of the new-born national

has a bold colour scheme: the ceiling is lime-

state, so there was a desire to create unique

coloured, the walls ultramarine and the jambs

architecture. The fa