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Researcher: Tallinn does not understand architectural value of Linnahall

Tallinn Linnahall (1980), Raine Karp, Riina Altmäe.
Tallinn Linnahall (1980), Raine Karp, Riina Altmäe. Source: Arhitektuurimuuseum

The future of the many important Estonian modernist buildings is uncertain. Demolition permissions have been given for the former tourist currency exchange building and the modernist office building behind the Sõpruse cinema, while the destiny of Linnahall is still uncertain. Architectural historian and critic Carl-Dag Lige says that the City of Tallinn fails to understand these buildings' architectural value.

Linnahall was one of the first seaside gates in Soviet-era Tallinn, while the coastline was still dominated by industrial and military structures. "Unfortunately, it has been standing out of use for about 15 years and is now a thorn in the side of many, despite being an internationally significant example of architecture from its era," Lige said.

"The tourist shop serves a special purpose and, like Linnahall, its architecture – a type of inverted building – is highly regarded internationally. The currency exchange was meant largely for Finnish tourists, it features an exciting design and excellent build quality," Lige said, adding that unfortunately the modernist building designed by Peep Jänes and Henno Sepmann failed to be listed as a culturally significant structure.

A former currency exchange shop in the centre of Tallinn on Tartu maantee. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The third and least-known building is the modernist office building behind the Sõpruse cinema, designed by Toomas Rein and Veljo Kaasik, which is overshadowed by its Harju tänav façade. It has also been approved for demolition.

Buildings with "beautiful façades," Lige continued, are easier for people to relate to, while modernist architectural language is more angular, geometric and industrial, whereby the human dimension is lessened.

The structures "become a little cooler psychologically, and it's true that this architecture, which also draws heavily from modernist art, still seems a little alien to many people. However, it is a component of our modernization process, of social experience, and of both spatial and visual culture," he said.

"I am convinced that the Tallinn Old Town should reflect a cross-section of architecture from all different eras," he said, noting how some architectural historians say that what comes after Stalinist architecture does not quite suit the Old Town.

Lige gave an example of the De la Gardie department store on Viru tänav, built in 2000, as an example of a high-quality building whose architectural language can also appear alien to some people in the context of the Old Town.

Lige said that he does not agree that the buildings' initial function and spatial program could render their contemporary use impossible. "Most manor houses and cathedrals are also impractical for today's world. But each structure is born in its own era and our responsibility is to strive to adapt to it," he said.

He said that the main problem with Linnahall is the owner's lack of resolve to do something about it throughout the decades.

Toomas Rein and Veljo Kaasik's office building (1967). Source: Estonian Architecture Museum

Unfortunately, many local governments have failed to recognize the architectural significance of this structure," he said, adding that Estonian democracy must grow to learn to distinguish between ideology and architectural and artistic value.

"People have traveled here specifically to see this building. If the city of Tallinn could realize its tourism potential, it would be a great investment for the future," Lige said.

Lige said Linnahall needs more technical research before it can be used in its new function. "What is needed here is for the citizens to be more vocal. There will be no other building like it in the world if this one is torn down. If we bulldoze it, it will be lost to us forever," he said.

"I am not arguing that every building should be preserved, but even if you don't like the look of a structure, it may have qualities that contributes to the social environment," he added.

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Editor: Rasmus Kuningas, Kristina Kersa

Source: Interviewer: Aleksander Metsamärt

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