estonian architecture

Estonia to have the world’s highest pyramids by 2030

An Estonian architecture firm and a local council are planning to use chippings from an oil-shale quarry to build the largest pyramids in the world in Aidu, North-Eastern Estonia by 2030.

The ancient Egyptians built most of the pyramids as tombs for pharaohs and their consorts. The pharaohs were buried in pyramids of many different shapes and sizes. Every year, millions of people travel to Egypt to admire those masterpieces, among them thousands of Estonians. But in 20 years’ time, the tiny Northern European country will have its own pyramids – in fact, the world’s highest. Unlike their Egyptian counterparts though, the original purpose of these pyramids will be regeneration of the local environment.

Estonian architect Ott Kadarik, one of the partners at architecture firm behind the project, Kadarik & Tüür, is brimming with enthusiasm about the venture: “’The pyramids’ is, of course, a catchy and ambitious name for our project – and indeed, that is the shape it will ultimately take. But the idea took off from our discussion with Aidu council leader Hardi Murula who asked us to think outside the box and find a purpose for waste rocks from the local oil shale quarry. Estonia’s oil shale deposits account for 17% of total deposits in the EU and the country generates 91% of its power from this source, which makes this Baltic tiger also one of the most energy independent countries in Europe, but it also creates waste rocks – 20 million tons over the next 25 years. Well, actually – the word ‘waste’ is not entirely appropriate because chippings from oil shale are not harmful to health, nor are they bad for the environment. Yet they are not of sufficient quality for buildings either, hence they would be disposed of otherwise. But instead of shoving them all in a pit out of the way and attempting to pretend that the mining industry never existed, we can use those splinters to create a new phenomenon, a tourist sight – and therefore add value to the local economy.”

Waste rocks will be used to build Aidu pyramids
Waste rocks will be used to build Aidu pyramids.

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Kadarik says that the idea is actually quite simple and not overly complicated, ruling out an ancient Egyptian-style, almost inhuman effort. Their firm has analysed the material and concluded that by stacking the waste rocks with four lateral facets at 37-degree angle, it would ultimately form a pyramid shape. “Our role as architects is to create a structure for the pyramids, so that we could build them layer by layer and increase their height year by year. Fascinatingly enough, it will be very flexible, so in theory we could slightly change the shape of the structure, over the years.” Once completed, the pyramids will be 151-152 metres in height, i.e. the highest in the world, occupying an area of 1,2 x 0,6 km. For comparison, The Great Pyramid of Giza stands at 138.8 metres.

Height comparison between Aidu and other pyramids in the world. Aidu on top.
Height comparison between Aidu and other pyramids in the world. Aidu on top.

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“But it wouldn’t be just couple of bare pyramids, standing on their own and a wind blowing between,” says Kadarik. “If you look at Egyptian pyramids, they are great ancient buildings in the Cairo desert. But what we are planning to do with Aidu pyramids is also to create a coherent, entertaining environment around it. There would be a theme-park with people able to walk up and down the pyramids, an amphitheatre, swimming pools with sandy beaches on which to sunbathe and swim, and educational facilities. There could be a tunnel through the pyramid which would double as an educational centre, called the Museum of the Earth. People could just walk around the pyramid or use Segway. And why not arrive in a hot air balloon, enjoying views across the local county?” Kadarik visualises, and continues: “Features that could fit within Aidu pyramid complex are endless – from restaurants, nightclubs and a go-kart track, to a mining museum and forests. In other words, it would be a place where nature, science, recreation and learning meet – a place to marvel, to rest, to think, and to learn, but above all, experience something completely extraordinary. Indeed, the complex would be visible from space.“

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Aidu pyramids will be surrounded by a coherent, entertaining environment.

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The financial logic behind Aidu is that it’s cheaper to find an alternative use for waste rocks by building pyramids than getting rid of it by using landfill – this way, there’s no need to pay landfill tax. Therefore, the cost of building Aidu pyramids is nominal and does not place any burden on taxpayer. But according to Hardi Murula, the ambitious project will only succeed if the current environmental laws and policies remain in place and it would not be “punished” by additional taxes. “Unfortunately, the public servants still fail to see the big picture – of how project on this scale would benefit the local area and Estonia as a whole. Instead, they are thinking in terms of short-term gain – how to collect landfill tax. But the aim of EU landfill directive, as well as Estonian legislation, is not to collect huge environmental taxes, but to find an alternative use and reduce waste. That’s exactly what we are aiming to do with Aidu Pyramids,” concluded Murula.

The excavating in current mines will continue until 2030, by which time the ambitious visionaries behind Aidu pyramids project hope that by completing this venture, they have given a very remote place in Estonia a fair chance to become a buzzing part of Europe – an area which people can actually visit with enjoyment, not just abandon it after decades of exploitation, excavating oil shale for electricity.

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The complex would be visible from space.

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Photos: Kadarik & Tüür

EstonianWorld would like to hear comments and feedback from our readers – what do you think of this project?

Estonia to be represented at EXPO 2015 world fair by “Gallery of ___” (video)

Estonia will be represented at the EXPO 2015 world fair in Milan by “Gallery of ___”, designed by the Tallinn-based architecture firm Kadarik & Tüür. EXPO is an international exhibition held every five years in different cities around the world and showcases the progress made by the attending countries.

Fourteen entries were submitted to the concept, architecture and interior design competition for the Estonian pavilion at EXPO Milan 2015.

According to Martin Hirvoja, the board member of Enterprise Estonia (EAS), the organisation responsible for organising the design competition, “Gallery of ___” was voted the winner by a unanimous vote of the jury. “The fact that the jury, consisting architects, designers and other specialists in their respective fields, decided to unanimously vote for “Gallery of ___”, is quite unprecedented and demonstrates how thought-out this project is,” Hirvoja said.

“The “Gallery” will represent Estonia as a Northern, yet a warm country – a democratic and open place. Made of timber, so abundant in Estonia, the “Gallery’s” space is used invitingly and there’s no single point of entrance where people have to stand in line to get in – rather, it’s open from three sides where visitors can follow their own path of exploring the exhibition. What is great is that it’s also a green solution, since the wooden pixels according to the concept can later be individually or in cluster brought back to Estonia and used at children’s playgrounds for building swings, for example,” Hirvoja added.

Estonia EXPO 2015

Ott Kadarik, one of the partners at Kadarik & Tüür, also emphasised the dynamic nature of the Estonian pavilion. “Estonia is a lively and open place on the edge of Europe. This is supported by our concept for the pavilion – it indicates that we are in ever-changing process and development. It will be a welcoming, multifunctional and an interactive space, rather than static – exciting changes taking place in Estonia at the time of the exhibition will be projected via “Gallery of ___” to its international visitors,” explained Kadarik.

“Visitors can taste good quality Estonian organic food, representing the traditional and Nordic fusion alike, and at the same time watch live pictures of animals roaming freely in the Estonian nature, streamed via webcams. They have a chance to share their impressions and emotions on Skype or social media via facilities in the gallery, therefore achieving a more personal feeling of Estonia. Two large LED screens will be installed on either side of the pavilion, where visitors can display their names via the “Gallery of You” application, motivating them to photograph themselves and share it on social media. Swings will be provided for children, making it family-friendly and doubling as a space to relax. The pavilion will also host concerts, fashion and cultural events,” added Kadarik.

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Architecturally, the project involves 100 unique wooden modules, easily transportable. Out of these, 52 modules form the actual pavilion and the rest will be used to present Estonia in other regional events linked to EXPO across Italy.

“Gallery of ___” will also feature some interesting technology, as appropriate for a country priding itself for forward-looking solutions. As one of the main themes in EXPO 2015 will be energy, the visitors at the Estonian pavilion can participate in producing electricity by swinging on “energy-generating swings”, connected to electric generators and data sensors. Every swing is connected to a camera, which will photograph the swinger at any discretionary moment – the photo displaying the swinger’s expression can then be printed out, together with information of the amount of electricity produced.

Some of the rooms will have their ceilings covered entirely in high-resolution screens, streaming various scenes (some live) from Estonia – from wild animals in nature to a busy kitchen in one of the best restaurants in the country – enabling visitors to experience a live connection to Estonia.

The pavilion will also be covered by free wi-fi and it will have its own smartphone app. The app will offer general info and facts, as well as some surprising scenes from Estonia; it can double as a food ordering function in the pavilion (it will position the visitor) and feature Estonian food recipes; lists all the scheduled events in the pavilion etc.

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According to Hirvoja, it’s difficult to overestimate the importance of EXPO to Estonia. “It’s one of the international events where all countries can take part without any previous qualifications and regardless of their size. Estonia is still lacking a clear identity and image in the world, compared with Scandinavian countries, for example. We cannot compete with larger countries in financial resources or in military strength, but we can still achieve a strong effect around the world if we manage to portray our image cleverly. Hence, EXPO is important for the ‘brand Estonia’, which in turn is crucial for attracting more tourists and foreign investment to the country on one hand, and increasing Estonian exports on the other,” Hirvoja concluded.

Estonia has taken part in the event three times: once before the Soviet occupation (in 1933) and twice since it regained its independence (in 2000 and 2010). Participation in the EXPO 2015 will cost Estonia an estimated €3.7 million.

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Photos: Kadarik & Tüür

Exhibition “Conversion in Contemporary Estonian Architecture” opens in London

The 20th century was turbulent for Estonia in many fields, architecture being no exception. Many of the buildings that popped up during this period were influenced by the economic and political considerations of Soviet policy or simply by the over-riding aim of replacing war damaged buildings quickly and cheaply. Consequently the country didn’t enjoy a reputation for architectural excellence beyond Tallinn’s old town.

exhib2Since the year 2000, however, not only have many new structures risen to adorn the skyline of Tallinn and other Estonian towns, but some of these old relics have been converted and given a new lease of life. It is the latter that inspired the photo exhibition “Conversion in Contemporary Estonian Architecture”, which displays some of the most notable conversions to date.

One of the most recent examples is the new University of Tartu’s Narva College building, which stands next to the Narva Town Hall, one of the few buildings not destroyed during World War Two. The new college building replicates the frontage of the now-destroyed Narva Stock Exchange on whose site it now stands.

The photo exhibition is running at 12 Star Gallery, located within Europe House, the representative office of the European Commission to the UK. The purpose of the gallery is to showcase the creative and cultural diversity that is the hallmark of the European Union and it is made available to all member states on a rotating basis.

The exhibition opened on 15 October with a reception attended by EU functionaries, members of the Estonian Embassy in London and the wider London Estonian community.

“Conversion in Contemporary Estonian Architecture” runs until 25 October, Monday-Friday 10:00-18:00. Europe House is to be found at 32 Smith Square, Westminster, London, SW1P 3EU and the nearest underground station is Westminster.

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Cover photo: University of Tartu Narva College, one of the buildings featured in the exhibition.

Veronika Valk — a young architect designing a better world

Veronika Valk is one of the most ambitious young generation Estonian architects, whose work is not just about serious architecture and grey cityscapes – against the common understanding of the black-and-whiteness of her profession, she explores the humane and fun factors of the built environment.

In her works, both theoretical and practical, she concentrates on pragmatic usability as well as on emotional fulfillment. Recently, Veronika has managed to add some more duties on her professional list: she now edits the architecture, urbanism and design related news for Estonian culture and art newspaper Sirp.

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Valk studied at the Estonian Academy of Arts (EE) and Rhode Island School of Design (US) and is currently a PhD candidate at RMIT University School of Architecture in Melbourne (AU). She lives in Tallinn and works as an architect in her practice Zizi & Yoyo. She has constructed both public and private buildings, designed interiors and landscapes, won some 30 prizes at various competitions as well as published a number of critical essays on architecture and urbanism. Veronika received the Estonian Young Architect Award in 2012.

In the following interview we try to scratch the surface of what ideas lie behind her works and what she thinks about the architectural state of our world today.

What is the person, place, event or some other instance that has inspired you the most?

At this instance in time, it has to do with recent developments in biological arts perhaps. Lucky I met Oron Catts and lonat Zurr a few years ago who run SymbioticA research laboratory in Perth, Western Australia, enabling artists and researchers to engage in wet biology practices. Their perception, their investigation and observations of “life” have indeed had an impact on how I regard the future of my practice and possibilities of an architect to engage with new developments in culture, including science, technology and the concurrent engineering paradigm. So, what does it all have to do with architecture? The search for vitality, or investigation of “life”, expresses itself in my work through the search for the “joyful” and “playful” which are usually not mentioned in any of the briefs of commissioned work. An architect is typically asked for pragmatic solutions — for a building to function the best way possible, for a structural solution to be energy efficient, for  design and surfaces to be easily maintained and so on. In my practice, I have demanded the outcome to be more than that — I have searched for ways to integrate the “playful” and the “joyful” in buildings (e.g. Suure-Jaani sports center), in public spaces (e.g. composer Eduard Tubin’s monument and urban installations for festivals of light) as well as in my teaching, curatorship etc. I call it the “embodied generosity” of practice, something which inherently increases the quality of solutions for built environment even if no one asks for this to start with, in the commission briefs.

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How much has the Estonian spirit and Fenno-Ugric background influenced you in your work? How would you compare the importance of different identities in your career, Estonian vs cosmopolitan?

I do not identify myself as cosmopolitan, but Estonian. While scientists know that their work positions itself in the global context, architects are always from a specific geographic location, their work belongs to a specific place. Yet what we can talk about is the notion of “crossing contexts” and that our knowledge about the outside world might “evoke” certain ideas or approaches. For example, think of the Tallinn waterfront — formerly closed-off industrial and military zone — and the issue of returning some of it back to the public (e.g. the Kultuurikatel initiative). It points to the dilemma of “post-traumatic” in urban development as well as “dignified aging” of some of the monumental buildings on the shore (e.g. the Linnahall concert hall), often loaded with ideological legacy. Here, we can look at other similar situations in other cities, but it would be wrong to implant those foreign ideas in a straightforward way. Bearing in mind the complex history of Estonia, we must focus on the actual [existing] built environment — our cultural heritage and the spine of the society’s physical identity — as well as the people who inhabit it, the cultural context in constant flux. What we as architects can do, however, is to investigate how the city as our common ground could simultaneously accommodate all of those identities of different generations in crossing contexts, affected by shifting times, [horrific] memories and layers of tacit knowledge. And still prove desirably “profitable” in neo-liberal terms. Think of the hydroplane hangars (the Maritime Museum), Patarei (a former political prison), Kultuurikatel (a former heat plant turned into a creative hub) or Linnahall as landmarks on Tallinn waterfront. We operate at a time when the nonconformist architectural icons require re-evolution of the term “use value”, which is of worldwide urban concern. Thus, here indeed the local meets the global.

How do you see Estonia today? What are your views on the recent developments and closer future of the world?

Veronika_Valk24_photo_by_meeli_k__ttimFrom an idealist position, the practitioner (ie an architect) is trained to model the world for the better. Thus, I can only be the incurable optimist, even though we are suffering from the Anthropocene (Stoermer, Crutzen). The new generation of Estonian architects share a commitment to open up the discipline and make it part of the larger public. In that sense, I see Estonia as a precious hive mind, although struggling in global turbulence. The recent developments in transdisciplinary hybridisation of arts and sciences force the contemporary technological culture to rise from self deception — from deluding itself about the extent of its eternally positive impacts, by taking up more honest and more critical positions with regard to its overall weakness in addressing the broader issues… be it climate, food scarcity, depletion of natural resources, (non-)Western value systems or something else. We must exit the last page of the “humanities versus real sciences” war. It is time to bring the community of practitioners in arts and sciences together so that it can rise and stand in solidarity for the ecosystem.

Which topics in your perspective are the most important in today’s world? How are they related to the future of architecture? What could a common citizen do to get involved and help?

Speaking of the Anthropocene and its overabundance of “crises”, we should perhaps be concerned about the emergent “solutions”. Here, I refer to recent trends in geoengineering and the issues of biopolitics. On one hand, the investment in geoengineering might be necessary to alleviate the frustration of electorates which are not supporting the radical changes to their lifestyles required by significant — emission, financial etc. — cuts. The secondary objectives for weather manipulation include demographic, energy and agricultural resource management pretexts. As the weather has been weaponised, the role of those in charge of “spatial arts” (i.e. territorial planners, architects, landscapers etc.) is more demanding than ever before. We must draw attention to some of the instruments which refer to the political illusion of planetary control and ask how the professionals in the field could tackle the new biogadgets to terraform Earth. Indeed, warfare now includes the technological ability to induce, enhance or direct cyclonic events, earthquakes, draught and flooding, including the use of polymerised aerosol viral agents and radioactive particulates carried through global weather systems. At least four countries — the US, Russia, China and Israel — possess the technology and organisation to regularly alter weather and geologic events for various military and black operations. A small group of leading climate scientists, financially supported by billionaires, is lobbying governments and international bodies to back experiments into manipulating the climate on a global scale to avoid catastrophic climate change. I guess an architect’s ultimate goal — as this is what one is trained to do — is to imagine a future that is worth creating, and to reap the competitive advantages of designing it and making it happen, building it. Yet we are also obliged to remain our curiosity for the world, to raise our awareness — to make informed decisions on a daily basis. This last bit goes not just for architects, but everyone.

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As architecture is mainly a material and visual art, it is mostly recognised as a pragmatic discipline in the northern hemisphere. How could architecture make people not to think about material values and to connect with themselves, with their spirituality and common sense?

I might not be the strongest believer in “common sense”, a term too often used for dubious pretexts to justify destructive behavior. Yet I mentioned the “playful” and the “joyful” earlier. I think this is one of the keys. Venturous practice walks on the borderline of fiction and reality. Our curiosity is what enables us to learn. Our ability to dream fuels our action. Hence, architecture which triggers our curiosity for the world and fuels our imagination, and manages to do it in a playful yet resilient way, is probably the way ahead.

As you have written several articles about greener environmental and architectural solutions, readers would be delighted to hear about your thoughts of CO2 emissions and the ending of fossil fuels. What do you think, how will the world look in 50 or 100 years? Will the shift from fossil fuel driven transportation to green energy go smoothly around the world or will there be gradual uneven unpredictable path to new energy resources?

Thinking of the current situation of Estonia and its oil shale reserves, then the energy generation is shifting towards shale oil and retort gas. But this enables hydrogen production. However, as it is excessively costly to transport hydrogen over long distances, we would need to consume it on the spot, within the country. Perhaps we are able find a way to develop a market for vehicles which run on hydrogen. Otherwise, we might eventually end up using more and more biofuels. Or, in case the international power grid and energy storage solutions improve considerably, we might benefit from the growth in shale gas or massive solar energy facilities around the world. Beyond this, we might witness phenomena like farming oceans for algae, synthetic telepathy, humans merging with machines, almost infinitely extended life expectancy, rush to develop the Arctic and then Antarctica, single worldwide currency. Whether all these things happen within the next 50 to 100 years and whether the ride is bumpy or seems to us unbearably unpredictable, depends largely on our understanding of the self, projected into the future. Our comprehension of the future “human” or “ecology” is an elongation of past decades yearning and rigorous search for revolution of (human, ecological) sensibilities.

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How do you see the future of Estonian architecture? Do you see that state could manage without the institution of the State Architect?

Estonia certainly needs a spatial strategy. It might be that to obtain a sophisticated spatial strategy, we indeed need the institution of the State Architect, someone to instigate the genesis of this strategy. I guess I am more interested in what would make a country’s spatial strategy an engaging one. Perhaps it is about inviting people in to play and work on the project. Using third sector initiatives, private developments and public space projects as “living cell enriched” materials. Maybe then we are able to invent techniques to treat urban matter differently. To treat it in a way in which it starts to fire up certain processes that work with “enzyme based cellular structures” such as (grassroot) societal initiatives. Material scientists and systems engineers are looking at such innovation in biological scale, yet the scale difference is here the major issue to overcome. For this reason, biomimicry is not going to help. The emotional affect of a potential statewide spatial plan is related to specific encounters between the locals and their context, their non global set of sensations. And these sensations change over time as they are evoked by crossing contexts. Thus, the morphogenesis of the spatial strategy needs to remain in correlated flux. Closer look at the complex behavior of human networks, habitat patterns, collective choreographies across scale, assembled into the spatial strategy, could teach us how to overcome the constraints that come with “computational” models trapped in excel sheets. At the level of consensus, the spatial strategy needs to prioritise cooperative forms, with the architect becoming, once again, the intermediary. Architectural practice in Estonia needs to rethink the robustness of the discipline at the core, to stop the avalanche of non-natural interventions as interferences. Superimposition of a transcendent idea or ideological superstructure makes architecture and urban planning highly unstable, if the “abductors” i.e. the performers of the subculture of “parametricism” speculate in the fog of speculative factors and opportunistic circumstances. There is an extensive amount of tacit knowledge in local architectural practices, and at its best, the spatial strategy should capitalise on this potential, to possess ways to observe and respond to collaborative processes emerging from respective discourses in the society. It comes without saying that the spatial strategy has to be as transparent as possible. In essence, it is not a question of improvisation any more, but that of having a perspective, to understand what is the identity of this country and how it is performing.

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Estonian architects create the world´s longest bouncing trampoline

Estonian architects Maarja Kask (33), Karli Luik (35) and Ralf Lõoke (34) from the Tallinn-based practice Salto have built the world’s longest trampoline in a Russian forest, submitted as part of an arts festival.

The trampoline, called „Fast Track“, is 51 metres long and made of black rubber. According to the young architects behind this innovative idea, “Fast track” is a integral part of park infrastructure, it is a road and an installation at the same time. It challenges the concept of infrastructure that only focuses on technical and functional aspects and tends to be ignorant to its surroundings. “Fast track” is an attempt to create intelligent infrastructure that is emotional and corresponds to the local context. It gives the user a different experience of moving and perceiving the environment.”

It was built and installed as part of arts festival Archstoyanie, and has been a hit since it was opened at the end of November in the Nikola-Lenivets forest, attracting the attention of creative locals and many global media outlets alike. Thevillage of Nikola-Lenivets is about 250 km south-west of Moscow, and has been hosting the festival for 15 years. Originally inspired by Russian sculptor Nikolai Polisski, famed by his huge wooden sculptures, the festival has now become internationally renowned.

The young architects behind the project established Salto in 2004, and have become renowned for their innovative works that blur the line between different levels of architecture. This latest creation has already sparked a global furore, with The Guardian, Daily Mail, Huffington Post and Bloomberg all reporting about it.

In summer, Salto was nominated for Iakov Chernikhov International Prize “Challenge of the Time” – the prize is given to the best among contemporary architects of the young generation – up to 44 years old – for the most original, authentic and innovative concept of architecture. “NO99 Straw Theatre” was recently nominated for the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture – Mies van der Rohe Award 2013. The Straw Theatre was a temporary building, built on the occasion of Tallinn being the European Capital of Culture, to house a special summer season programme of Estonian avant-garde theatre NO99, lasting from May to October 2011.

 

Photos: Karli Kuik/Salto

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