Estonian National Opera wants changes to expansion-preventing heritage laws

A cyclist riding through Tallinn's Tammsaare Park.
A cyclist riding through Tallinn's Tammsaare Park. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The Estonian National Opera has proposed to the Estonian National Heritage Board to halt the processing of the current draft legislation regarding the protection of Tallinn's Old Town, as it would prohibit the new expansion of the opera house.

The director of the Estonian National Opera, Ott Maaten, has proposed to the National Heritage Board that the procedures regarding the draft regulations on the protection of the Tallinn Old Town, and the draft regulations designating the status of Tallinn's inner city fortifications as cultural monuments be terminated.

The Estonia theater building expansion has been added to the list of nationally significant cultural structures to be developed and renovated in 2021, according to Maaten's statement to ERR.

However, these construction initiatives are now excluded from the new proposals. As the director of Estonia has emphasized, there is a clear contradiction between the earlier proposals and the latest Riigikogu's decision.

The new regulation "could not be approved in its current form because it clearly violates the principles of the law," Maaten said. He added that they should be first brought in accordance with the Riigikogu's decision.

The extension and new construction would be prohibited under the new heritage regime

According to Maaten, an extension to the National Opera can only be constructed on the land behind the opera house, which is adjacent to Pärnu maantee, in the Turuplats section of Tammsaare Park located in heritage protection area No. 2, per the proposed protection regulations.

However, new buildings cannot not be constructed in this area and the emphasis will be placed instead on developing green and recreational spaces, as well as pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly public areas. In addition, Tammsaare Park is a valuable green space where the new proposal prohibits any construction.

According to Maaten, Tammsaare Park has never been classified as a historic green space in Tallinn, but it is now. "This also creates significant confusion," he said.

As the park incorporates archaeological monuments, the proposed designation of Tallinn's urban fortifications as a cultural monument includes the park within the heritage protection zone.

A number of buildings have already been constructed in locations that violate the proposed law

In addition, Maaten explained that 11 structures in Tallinn have been constructed in violation of the draft protection legislation. These include the Vabamu, the Danish Embassy, the English College swimming pool and the Vabaduse Square parking lot.

"I would like to emphasize that the majority of these 11 structures were constructed during the time when Tallinn was already on the UNESCO World Heritage List; add to that the currently-under-construction extension to the secondary school, which is manifestly in conflict with this design," the director said.

National Heritage Board: Explore alternative expansion strategies for Estonia

Kaarel Truu, a consultant for the Heritage Preservation Board's Old Towns Department, told ERR that the agency is evaluating Estonia's proposals and will consult with representatives of the city of Tallinn and, if feasible, finalize the document on the protection regime.

In the meantime, the draft regulations for the protection of Tallinn's Old Town are still being processed and alternative solutions could be pursued in lieu of the published plans for an extension to the opera house.

Truu explained that the draft law states that in areas where buildings served the park or were connected to municipal services prior to World War II, the building volumes may be restored and the addition of a small extension with one ground floor serving the park is permitted. This could be a wind tunnel or an elevator shaft that is essential to the building's operation.

"Evidently, the originally proposed solution for the Estonia extension, which was reported in the media, cannot be described as 'small-scale,' and the Heritage Board, the expert groups advising the authority, and numerous expert organizations believe that there is no room for the originally proposed solution at this location and that it would not ensure the preservation of the monument and the values of the heritage conservation area," Truu said.

He noted that the area between the Estonia Opera Theatre and Pärnu maantee is also protected as a park. According to Truu, the park territory is owned by the City of Tallinn, which has also deemed it impossible to construct an extension of this scale.

"Therefore, alternative methods of enlarging Estonia must be found, which would substantially better preserve the exterior appearance and visibility of Tammsaare Park and the historic theater building than the current media coverage," Truu said.

In addition to the letter from the Estonia theater, according to the councilor, the public consultation received one letter in favor of the Estonia extension and three letters against it.


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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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