The Estonian Institute of Historical Memory is looking for a design for its planned Red Terror Museum. The choice of location, Tallinn's Patarei prison, makes the competition a formidable challenge, as much of the building's historic substance will need to be restored and made visible to visitors.
The institute is looking for a contemporary, attractive, and visitor-friendly design. Entries will have to include a spatial concept for the rooms currently specified as part of the future museum, but also how it is going to be accessed, including an outdoors area to be made part of it.
"The biggest challenge for the designer will be bringing together the existing building and the ideas for the exhibition," curator Martin Andreller told ERR News. "We want to exhibit the building and the parts of the prison, but also create a unique and modern museum with the possibility to make it an actual education and research center.”
Tallinn’s Patarei prison makes very authentic exhibition possible
According to Andreller, starting the museum from scratch planning for an entirely new building would have been easier. But while Patarei prison comes with plenty of challenges, its unique location and past make it the perfect place for the institute and museum.
"International research into the fates of the countries that were occupied and of the people who suffered as a consequence of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and making this research available to the public is a unique initiative," Andreller said. "The sphere of influence covered by the secret protocol of the 1939 pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany is one of the focuses of the permanent exposition."
Patarei is ideally suited for the purpose: both regimes held and executed political prisoners here. One of the aims of the museum is to immortalize the memory of the victims that passed through this specific prison.
"We're planning to exhibit the prison cells on the second floor and in the solitary confinement building. These parts of the building and the interior are quite well preserved and show what the prison was like in the 1940s in the most authentic way," Andreller said. "There are dozens of actual bunkbeds from different eras of the prison. The prison doors, barred windows, different pieces of furniture and equipment used by guards in two different occupations are still available for display."
What is left of the building's different eras can be used to make visitors see and feel what it was like to end up in Patarei prison in totalitarian times, and the individual fates of prisoners added to that, Andreller said. The curators will spend the months following the competition developing a detailed concept of the permanent exhibition as well as the objects to be displayed.
While the institute aims for a modern and popular museum, ensuring the quality of the research carried out is just as important. "We will work with different institutions all over Europe to build up the research center and to make sure the exhibitions are professional," Andreller stressed. This cooperation will then provide the base for a permanent exhibition that also covers crimes committed by communist regimes worldwide, an approach not previously taken by any other museum.
Unique global approach to researching crimes committed by communist regimes
The objectives of the museum and research center are to research and raise awareness of the nature and history of various communist regimes and the ideology or ideologies that guided them, but also the crimes committed by them.
Due to Estonia's history and Patarei prison's historic use by both the Soviet and Nazi regimes, the approach is based primarily on the geographic boundaries of the spheres of influence set out by the secret protocol of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.
But both the museum and the research center will look into crimes committed by communist regimes globally, and organise and curate international research work in the field.
The museum's exhibitions and focus will start with the inception of communist ideology and "its different manifestations as a state ideology as the result of seizing power," also looking at how subversive activity in the preceding states led to the eventual rise to power.
It will highlight crimes against humanity committed by the different communist regimes as well as crimes of this kind that were committed under the regimes' influence. The center's research will also look into the methods of communist propaganda, and how it operated in democratic societies.
Another important field of research is the influence of communist ideology on present and future societies as well as the legacy and remnants of communist rule in present-day states.
Extensive list of historic features of Patarei to be left in place
Though the competition for the museum's design is already in full swing, there are a couple of loose ends. The government has provided the funding for the development of the future museum so far, but the fate of the Patarei sea fortress on the whole is all but clear.
The floor space currently allotted to the museum amounts to some 5,000 of Patarei's roughly 17,000 square meters. According to Andreller, this number could still go up, which is one of the reasons why it is difficult to say what the museum will eventually cost.
According to the competition brief, excessive alterations of the spatial layout, general appearance, and interior finishing of the museum's rooms need to be avoided wherever possible. Beyond preserving the building as a prison, the typical features of its initial construction as a sea fortress should be underlined as well.
This means that the design tender comes with an extensive list of features that should be left in place. The institute is working closely with the Estonian National Heritage Board to make sure historically valuable substance isn't lost.
For instance, both the building's roof volume and the distribution and position of openings in the outside walls should remain the same, which means that the architects won't be able to make the kind of alteration to Patarei's design that successfully integrated historic substance with modern elements, e.g. in the case of the Tate Modern in London.
Features not only to be left in place, but to be underlined and brought out by the museum's design also include details of the prison that were added later, such as parts of the solitary confinement building and structures added to the prison's yard in the Soviet era.
Next steps to be announced in early April
The massive building is in a dismal state, while at the same time plenty of it is under heritage protection. This makes developing the complex on the whole very expensive. Discussions so far have made it quite clear that the state won't go ahead with the development and renovation of the fortress without private partners.
The design competition announced last month will end on Mar. 24. A jury will judge the entries, drawing on the knowledge of independent experts where necessary, and award a first prize of €15,000, a second prize of €10,000, and a third prize of €5,000. The next steps towards the realization of the museum and the development of the prison complex are to be announced in early April.
Editor: Dario Cavegn