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Margit Mutso: Tallinn has done all it can to ensure Linnahall stays dilapidated

linnahall
linnahall Source: Alari Tammsalu/Pixels

Money to keep the Linnahall in a good state of repair has not been found for over 30 years, and the City of Tallinn, as the iconic building's owner, has done everything it can to ensure it quickly falls into a state of dilapidation, Margit Mutso finds.

A new concept for the Linnahall area in Tallinn has been the hottest architectural topic in Estonia for the past month. The public was treated to a vision of what the city center's waterside could look like in the future: lots of greenery, waterholes, pedestrian paths, an art center, library, benches, squares, pavilions, public transport, marina, residential buildings the first floor of which would host businesses.

And the Linnahall – a concert venue sporting an open roof area as a lovely place to enjoy the sea and sunset. Sounds good, except for the fact that it would not be the same Linnahall, the same 20th century architectural landmark currently overlooking the sea. No, it would be a completely new and modern building.

But what happened to Tallinn's mighty, award-winning first megastructure, which in 1980 opened a tiny passage in the city center to a previously inaccessible seafront? That which continues to attract architecture enthusiasts from all over the world and which even Hollywood didn't think was too far away to visit? Unfortunately, that building does not fit the new vision.

Visions can come in all shapes and sizes. I remember one where Swedish architects replaced the "ugly Linnahall" with "beautiful apartment buildings". Of course, this was quickly shelved – if the building has been declared a listed heritage structure by experts in the field, it does not really matter that some developers do not understand its value.

The author of this new vision is not the private sector, no – it is Tallinn's Competence Center for Spatial Planning. Behind the awe-inspiring name are more than a dozen specialists who, through the city chancellor (the head of the Tallinn Strategic Management Office - ed.), report not to the city planning authority but to the mayor. So the vision for the abolition of the Linnahall was drawn up, if not at the mayor's suggestion, at least with his full knowledge. Mihhail Kõlvart (the mayor of Tallinn - ed.) said that this vision does not imply an imminent demolition of the Linnahall; rather, it highlights the urgency of taking prompt action due to the dilapidated condition of the structure. And so a vision was drawn up to do away with the eyesore. No other visions, if any, have been in the works.

According to the website of the Competence Center for Spatial Planning, the center believes in co-creative processes and cooperates with professional associations and other organizations. Strangely, however, this vision came as a complete surprise to all the other parties involved: heritage conservationists, the architects' association, and even the city planning authority and the deputy mayor responsible for urban planning. The idea for the demolition of the listed building was allegedly formulated in complete silence, in secret, for two years.

Why? No one has an answer. One would have thought that the representatives of both the heritage protection and the architects' association would have immediately reminded the visionaries that the city hall is protected and as long as it retains its monument status, no one can take it away and there is no point in throwing money to the wind.

Two years of taxpayer money has now been spent on bright green and blue 3D pictures and animations that show how beautiful things can be after the old the Linnahall is gone. How the city center will finally "really" open up to the sea after the demolition of the Linnahall, how all the essential cultural buildings will fit here, and how the Green Capital will become greener and greener.

Unbelievably, this is a building that, in 1980, broke through the barbed wire of Tallinn's seafront to the sea, as open a landscape building as a building can be. And now that the entire coast is free from the Russian military yoke, it is this building that prevents Tallinn from opening up to the sea – it sounds absurd, and it is rather embarrassing! Also to this is appended a description of how the new six-store apartment blocks planned next to the Linnahall, on the land belonging to the city, will attract people to the sea...

In the latest Sirb, Triin Talk reminds us that these houses were actually approved by planning back in 2017. At the time, the city's representative persuaded the heritage committee to approve the plan with the promise that the money from the sale of the sweet development plots would be used to fix up the Linnahall. The commission, which preferred to see generous space opening around the the Linnahall area, accepted this compromise solution.

The Linnahall has no potential users, according to the city's visionaries. Why do we need a new the Linnahall if no one will use it? A new concert hall, a library, perhaps? The Linnahall's suitability is arguable; no one has even attempted to re-imagine it. And even if some options do not fit here, there are still areas near the sea where they can be built without destroying the most valuable structure of its period.

For 30 years, no money has been found to maintain the building, and the city, as the owner, has done everything it could to ensure that the building quickly fell into disrepair, but despite everything, it is still standing and in much better condition than, for example, the hangars for seaplanes, which were successfully revived from their hopeless state. If the Linnahall serves no purpose now, it could be better conserved and passed down to future generations who will appreciate the Soviet period's architectural achievements.

I am convinced that if only one structure from the era of occupation were to be preserved, it would be the Linnahall, which deserves it unreservedly. I completely agree with my colleague Siiri Vallner, who said in the recent column that she would not even trade the remains of the Linnahall for a duplicate of the Oslo Opera House.

However, the way the state and the city are pushing through their ideas today is seriously thought-provoking: the culture committee is allocating money for an extension to Estonia that is supposed to be built on someone else's land in violation of heritage protection law, while the city is secretly planning to demolish the heritage-listed Linnahall, ignoring all expert opinions. This makes you worry.

And finally, dear colleagues, experts in spatial design, such a glorified vision of green fraud casts serious doubts on your level of expertise! Those who envision a green capital cannot be strangers to today's sustainable development trends, which aim first and foremost to reuse, renovate, revalue and preserve the city's multi-layered character, rather than demolish and build new. This deceptively shiny vision is, in fact, completely at odds with this.

Inevitably, a reinlangian question (derived from a given name, Rein Lang, a politician embroiled in several controversies in the past, - ed.) arises: who benefits?

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Editor: Karmen Rebane, Marcus Turovski, Kristina Kersa

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