City of the Living – City of the Dead

Leonhard Lapin, 1978. MEA 4.18.2

In the 1970s, in order to voice common opinions and organise a number of social-critical exhibitions and undertakings, avant-garde architectural students united to form a group later called the Tallinn School. “Elavate linn – Surnute linn” (“City of the Living – City of the Dead”) is Leonhard Lapin’s satirical take on the construction of characterless mass housing. The author hid several important allegories in the drawing: the words “Väike õhkamine” (“Little Sighing”) stuck between the buildings symbolise the Pruitt-Igoe Modernist housing project in St. Louis, MO, USA (demolished in 1972); while “Autodes matmine” (“Burial in cars”) in the centre of the work references Lapin’s friend Vilen Künnapu (also an architect), who was one of the first members of the Tallinn School to acquire a vehicle. The drawing was displayed at the Library of the Estonian Academy of Science in 1978 among other works of which many were donated to the museum by engineer Reet Lumiste in 1991.


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Tallinn Song Festival Arena (sketch)

Alar Kotli, 1957-1958. Accession number 23-1-51

The Tallinn Song Festival Arena represents the re-arrival of modernism to Estonia during the Khrushchev Thaw. The Estonian SSR leadership commissioned the structure to mark the 20th anniversary of Soviet rule, but to Estonians, it was a symbol of their nationality and culture. The Song Festival Arena was essentially also a way of the nation thumbing its nose at the USSR – with its completion, Estonians’ nearly 100-year tradition of holding mass song festivals was immortalised. Alar Kotli came close to an entirely innovative final solution already when making his initial sketches, which include a saddle-roof in the shape of a hyperbolic paraboloid that functions as an acoustic screen. The sketches were donated to the museum by Anu Kotli in 1997.


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Computation Centre in Pärnu

Urmas Muru, competition in 1988, II prize. Accession number 5-5-3

In the 1980s young architects Raoul Kurvits, Peeter Pere, and Urmas Muru formed the radical Rühm T (Group T) artists’ group, which proclaimed that architects are artists, also. Urmas Muru’s vision for the Pärnu Computation Centre was a graphical Neo-expressionist design that was characteristic of Rühm T’s works. The strong angle of perspective and black-and-white pencil tones proceed from buildings of technical function and appearance. This led to a unique style that Kurvits and Muru termed “technodelic expressionism”. They described ‘technodelics’ as a revelation of the technical world through trance. The museum acquired the drawing in 1993 from Urmas Muru.


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Pirita beach pavilion

Pirita beach pavilion, photographer Rein Vainküla

Photographer Rein Vainküla of State Design Office Tsentrosojuzprojekt has captured the photogenic central element of the Pirita beach pavilion with its dining establishments, in which the combination of architectural parts provides an impressive melange. The shot, built on contrasting tones and diagonal lines, creates a somewhat deceptive, even constructivist impression. A human scale is added to the photograph by the beach-goers that seem to be almost strategically positioned.

Planning the new Pirita beach pavilion was instigated for the sailing regatta that took place in Tallinn as part of the 1980 Moscow Olympics. To make way for the new building, which was completed in 1979, a wooden beach pavilion designed by Edgar Kuusik and Franz de Vries and built in 1929, was demolished. At first, the new building, blindingly light and bright in the sun, had a restaurant, bar, cafeteria, three banquet halls, and in each wing rooms intended for beach-goers. The building was designed by Mai Roosna at Tsentrosojuzprojekt. At the beginning of the 2000s, the building was almost completely rebuilt to house apartments (architect Ülo Peil).


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Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ in Narva

Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ in Narva, aerial photographer Endel Grensmann

Harsh reality: The Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ in Narva designed by Paul Alisch in 1896 is the only neo-Byzantine religious building in Estonia – here seen in its Soviet context of dishonour. Before the war, the grand building stood in the now non-existent district of Joaoru in line with Alexander’s Cathedral creating an impressive architectural ensemble. Kiriku tänav (Church Street), which once connected the two churches, was however, filled with apartment blocks after the war.

The 2002 photograph by aerial photographer Endel Grensmann was purchased by the museum for its collection in 2003.


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Dwelling of family Kangur

Peeter Tarvas, 1950s. Accession number 40-1-82

There is a recognisable style to the dwellings erected in Estonia’s immediate post-war years. These stone buildings with tall gabled roofs and raised gutter-lines can be found all across the country. Their construction derives from traditional German heimat architecture, intended to give residents a cosy sense of home with the help of small elements such as romantic shutters. The style also pleased the Stalinist regime: it was sufficiently unlike the dominant pre-war flat-roofed structures, which carried “unfit” Western European values. The project was donated to the museum by Maria Tarvas along with many materials from the family collection in 2006.


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Flower Pavilion at Pirita Road in Tallinn

Valve Pormeister, design 1958, completed 1960. Accession number 33-1-22

Architect Valve Pormeister, who graduated university in garden- and park design, claimed that nature was an intrinsic component of her, which was why she often put landscape first in her works. The Flower Pavilion melts into the landscape with a sensitivity characteristic of the architect’s signature. In addition to organic architecture, the building, which step-by-step ascends a hillside, also represents Finnish-influenced cornice architecture. This approach was rare and reviving (i.e. Nordic) in Soviet Estonian society at the time, as the rigidity of the early 1950s still echoed. The detail-rich interior sketches demonstrate the architect’s great enthusiasm for designing flower exhibitions – an activity she also practiced afterward.


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Sketches of Tallinn’s Väike-Õismäe residential neighbourhood

Mart Port, ca 1968. Accession number 52-2-12

When designing the Väike-Õismäe residential neighbourhood, Mart Port and Malle Meelak – a shining tandem of Soviet-Estonian urban planning – seized the opportunity to shape it into an ideal city and avoid mistakes that commonly accompanied the construction of high-density housing projects. In the centre of the district designed for 40,000 residents, they placed an artificial lake with developments extending radially from it centre point. The drafts vividly convey Port’s genuine fascination with the concept of a ring-city. Compared with the earlier Mustamäe district, which was constructed as several independent micro-districts, Väike-Õismäe’s solution was unique and even so novel that there were numerous bumps along the road to gaining approval for its design. The architects had been expected to produce ordinary designs for an urban network, which would contain several smaller neighbourhoods and linear streets. This was precisely what Port and Meelak wished to avoid, instead producing a concentric street-plan with spacious outdoor areas that allowed for a more human dimension.


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Dr Spock’s residence

Tiit Kaljundi, architectural competition 1975, perspective drawing 1984, unrealised. Accession number K-53

Tiit Kaljundi’s relationship with Soviet Estonia’s official architectural scene was conflicted, as one may have expected from an avant-garde artist. The ruling power saw monotonous mass apartment blocks as a simple opportunity to ease the deficit of dwelling-spaces. For Kaljundi, however, it was a situation that dampened creativity and encouraged a superficial attitude towards the residential environment, to which he responded with a starkly opposite project – the post-modernist villa. The design, which was originally entered in the magazine Japan Architect’s “House for a Superstar” competition in 1975, was dedicated to famous American doctor Benjamin Spock, whose childrearing book was widely read in Estonia at the time. This version was drafted for an exhibition highlighting the “Tallinn School” of architects, which was held in Finland in 1984. Kaljundi’s protest against the Soviet Union’s rigid, anonymous building culture is obvious. By creating an analogy between construction-stages and life-stages, he clearly expresses the opinion that man and architecture are not separable. The house and the concrete-sidewalked property around it symbolised the various stages of life. Kaljundi’s drawing presents the structure from an axonometric perspective, which enables its imagination in a three-dimensional scale on a two-dimensional surface.


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Johannes Orro’s dwelling at Raudtee Street in Tallinn

Edgar Velbri, design 1932, constructed. Accession number 14-1-46

Bustling Nõmme had already grown from a holiday village to a reasonably-sized town (possessing town privileges from 1926–1940, after which it became a district of Tallinn) when café-owner Major Johannes Orro presented the design for his new building to the town government in 1932. True to the era of thriving small businesses, the ground floor of the residential building in the Kivimäe neighbourhood housed a bakery – an unquestionably successful venture, given its close proximity to the railway station. The design was drafted by young architect and Tallinn Technical University student Edgar Velbri, who was fascinated by old-fashioned architecture; probably a result of his summer internships at the Estonian National Museum, during which he surveyed Estonian farm structures. The hipped roofs, romantic shutters, and vertical siding characteristic of Estonian agricultural architecture later carried over into the architect’s personal style. Complementing such features with his talent for creating functional floorplan solutions, Velbri gained great public favour and demand, and his cosy structures gained their own nickname: “Velbri houses”. This single-page ink drawing on tracing paper is a typical 1930s residential design project, which was submitted for official approval along with an explanatory letter.


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