Page C1.2 . 10 October 2001                     
ArchitectureWeek - Culture Department
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  • Old and New in Estonia
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    Old and New in Estonia


    That Estonia is heavily forested is central to the country's early architectural development. Wooden architecture is not an obvious trait in Tallinn's old town, but wood features heavily on the outskirts of the city. The oldest wooden structures are the Jaani Seegi Church, built in 1724 and the interesting Kazan Church, dated back to 1721, which combines Orthodox and Lutheran baroque styles.

    A Palette for Foreign Architects

    Talinn was for many years Russia's main seaport, and the city became a showcase for architects from all over Europe. The 16th-century Renaissance saw examples such as the Tallinn House of the Blackheads, built and designed by architect and sculptor, Arent Passer from The Netherlands.

    The Classicism period to the mid-19th century is best seen not in Tallinn but in Tartu, the second largest population center and the nation's university city. Tartu's history, which goes back almost 1000 years, is ravaged with war. Its life as a university town started in 1632, when Sweden's king, Gustavus Adolphus II decided that Tartu would be the perfect place for the Swedish empire's second university.

    The most majestic structure in the city is the main building of Tartu University, with its Doric portico, designed in 1799 by university architect Johan Wilhelm Krause, who was also a professor of economics, technology, and civil engineering.

    The dominating landmark of the old town of Tallinn is the Russian Orthodox cathedral. Czar Alexander III ordered the cathedral designed in 1894 by St. Petersburg master architect Mikhail Preobrzhensky, and it was completed in 1900.

    Housing estates were erected in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as an inexpensive means of housing an ever-expanding population. However, they were not simple or uniform in design. Wooden houses designed by St. Petersburg architect Alexander Vladovski, covered all styles including Art Deco, Art Nouveau, neo-Renaissance, functionalism, classicism, eclecticism, and Gothic revival.

    Estonian Architects Take on the Modern Era

    At the beginning of the 20th century, the first professional Estonian architects started to emerge. Initially, their style followed late-Art Nouveau as can be seen in the Parliament Building in Tallinn designed by Eugen Habermann and Herbert Johnson. In the 1930s, functionalism became prevalent with examples such as the Tallinn Art House in 1934 by Edgar-Johan Kuusik and Anton Soans.

    One of the new structures on Tallinn's developing skyline is the $45 million Estonian Union Bank's headquarters. Designed by Raivo Puusepp, one of the most prodigious architects of the 1990s, it has a 308-foot (94-meter) reinforced concrete frame with 24-levels and is covered with 100,000 square feet (9,200 square meters) of mirrored windows.

    An atrium rises through the first three floors with an open-air space beginning on the fourth solid floor, which continues through to the 13th floor, ending in the wider section of the building in glass crystal. This inspirational building takes the lead for future Estonian architecture.

    The latest addition to the Tallinn skyline is the new $40 million Radisson SAS Hotel, which opened in April 2001. Reminiscent of 88 Wood Street in London, by Richard Rogers, with its stepped appearance, the 25-story building is the tallest in the city at 367 feet (112 meters). Designed by Swiss architect, Rene Stahlin, it has an unusually simple, yet sophisticated decor.

    An unusual building is the AIK Projekt-designed, Kawe Plaza, built in 1998. The building, with its wavy glass facade, was influenced by the triangular shape of the property beneath it.

    The Tallinna Linnahall, overlooking the sea and harbor is a surreal gray limestone concert hall. Despite its decaying facade and forecourt it is still in operation. Plans to convert it into a modern conference center include a new hotel, office space, health center, exhibition grounds, and a science institute. Swedish architects from the Osterled Foundation have estimated that costs will be about $41 million.

    Estonia, and Tallinn in particular, is seeing a rapid increase in new commercial buildings. Coupled with the major Tallinn infrastructure project, there is a definite emphasis in returning the port city to its former glory.

    Over recent years Estonian architects have emerged on the international scene, the most successful being Vilen Künnapu and Ain Padrik. With striking recent work adding yet another layer onto a landscape of creations with distant origins and from across the centuries, Estonia is a veritable cornucopia of architectural history and styles.

    Don Barker is a freelance writer and photographer in London, UK, who has lived and worked in Europe, Australia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, and Singapore.



    ArchWeek Image

    The rooftops of the medieval lower town of Tallinn, Estonia.
    Photo: Don Barker

    ArchWeek Image

    The Town Hall of Tallinn, preserved from the Middle Ages.
    Photo: Don Barker

    ArchWeek Image

    Tallinn's Kazan Church, dating back to 1721, which combines Russian Orthodox and Lutheran baroque styles.
    Photo: Don Barker

    ArchWeek Image

    The Doric portico of the main university building in Tartu designed by Johan Wilhelm Krause in 1799.
    Photo: Don Barker

    ArchWeek Image

    The Russian Orthodox church in Tallinn's old town, designed by St. Petersburg master architect, Mikhail Preobrzhensky and completed in 1900.
    Photo: Don Barker

    ArchWeek Image

    An example of a wooden house on the outskirts of Tallinn designed by St. Petersburg architect Alexander Vladovski.
    Photo: Don Barker

    ArchWeek Image

    The Estonian Union Bank Headquarters in Tallinn, designed by architects, AB R. Puusepp Stuudio.
    Photo: Don Barker

    ArchWeek Image

    The "Rogersesque" Radisson SAS Hotel designed by Swiss architect, Rene Stahlin.
    Photo: Don Barker


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