Estonian Urbanists´ Review U


ÕU+U on critique

Field notes

Vormsi discussions: on architectural critique


Dry facts of everyday issues – some thoughts about architectural criticism

Esa Laaksonen

Let us introduce

Few questions to the editors of architectural magazines. Mapping the field of Estonian architectural journalism


Planning as a critique

Tiit Remm

Case study

Pictures of Annelinn

Kadri Leetmaa


Writer's block

Findo Kveiks


An attempt at short criticism

Aare Pilv, Maarin Mürk, Sven Vabar, Triinu Pungits, Tanel Kuningas, Ott Kagovere, Tõnu Laigu


Festival UIT

Juhan Teppart

Case study

A terrible beauty. The eerie charm of the Stalinist urban space and the challenges of modernisation

Oliver Orro


What lies between buildings

Kristi Grišakov

Who is an urbanist?

On the possibility of a working urbanist in Estonia

Keiti Kljavin, Kaija-Luisa Kurik


Who needs urban governance?

Merlin Rehema



ÕU+U on critique

Challenge near the Rakvere castle. August Künnapu

In August 2014, the team of Independent Cultural Medias (which includes both U and Landscape Architecture Journal ÕU that the current number is assembled with) organised the School of Critique on the Vormsi island. The seminars brought together writers from various areas of culture, active critics and editors of publications to discuss the state of culture critique across the fields. On the island, inspired by generally constructive discussions which in the wider approach to architecture were only briefly touched, we, the editorial teams of U and ÕU decided to take the subject further and to put together a joint issue dealing with critique and criticism in our fields.

The current issue of ÕU-U begins with publishing the round-table discussion in Vormsi on the state of affairs of architectural criticism. The analysis is continued, albeit more broadly, by Esa Laaksonen’s article on architectural criticism and criticality in Finland. The themes highlighted by the director of Aalto Academy, practicing architect and editor-in-chief of the ptah journal, are well fit to aid us in diagnosing similar problems on the Estonian culture (critique) scene. Widening the notion of critique, the urban semiotician Tiit Remm writes about planning as a form of spatial critique. In this ÕU-U we are also mapping Estonian periodicals that deal with space; and experiment with the volume left for culture in the mainstream media i.e. the short critique format. The spatial program inherited from socialist society, both Stalinist and modernist developments, and their possible futures, are given thorough look at in Oliver Orro's article about Stalinist urban planning, and in Kadri Leetmaa's review of the Annelinn competition. In the very end we also stop for self-reflection and assess the specialties we studied and contemplate on their possible evolutions in the future. In conclusion – a little bit of everything, befitting of proper noble ladies: some thematic critique with a sprinkling of meta-critique.

For tangible experiencing of the magazine go find your copy of printed ÕU-U (with August Künnapu's painting on the cover) from the well-equipped periodical outlets in Estonia!

Wish you a good read! And summer.  
Andra Aaloe, Anna-Liisa Unt, Karin Bachmann, Keiti Kljavin and Merle Karro-Kalberg

Field notes
Vormsi discussions: on architectural critique

Photo: Maarin Mürk

A school of criticism was held on the Vormsi island on 20–23 August 2014, on the initiative of the working group of Independent Cultural Medias, where the editors of various independent media publications and contributors convened. In discussions and seminars, they shared experiences, talked about theory and practice, and delved into what is happening on the Estonian criticism scene in general. Here, we publish a section of the discussion on architectural criticism, where the current situation of writing about space and criticism is diagnosed. The discussion was moderated by Maarin Ektermann, the guest speakers were architectural historian Ingrid Ruudi and the director of the Museum of Estonian Architecture and the former long-time editor of the MAJA magazine Triin Ojari.

MAARIN EKTERMANN: In previous discussions we contemplated on the effect of criticism on the society, politics, the author himself or herself. For example, the writing of theatre reviews is accompanied by a real influence on the movement of cash flow: if you recommend something, people will actually go and buy a 20 euro ticket. But what is the effect of criticism in the field of architecture? Does the field itself set boundaries on writing about architecture – i.e. determine what should not be written about?

TRIIN OJARI: Critics like to think that large cash flows depend on them, but I think that in architecture it is not quite the case that when you say in a newspaper that a house is ugly, it will be demolished or the architect will be left without commissions. Rather, the opposite may be the case. Architectural criticism is definitely different from literary, art and other fine arts criticism. Architectural criticism is much more practical: whereas in other fields we talk about the relationship of the author and the critic and the distance between them, with architecture, taken as a site, buildings or environment, there is always a third party – the contracting entity or client. Architecture is always made for a third party, and that third party is obviously not the critic, instead, it is someone who has paid for it. Architectural writings also often focus on the conceptual stage of the project, i.e. some aims in terms of planning – in that case, criticism has an instrumental and so-called publicising role, that of the society’s watchdog, no matter how hollow that sounds.

MAARIN:  So how does the existence of the client influence criticism?

TRIIN: An ethical dilemma may arise – where does the line of freedom of opinion lie? When it comes to public sites, it may be public money, but the field has many private clients and private money. Especially when writing about private houses, the question may immediately crop up: ‘What are you coming here for, talking about my home or house? It is my money, my plot, it’s my business what I do here!’. Architecture inevitably has a more pragmatic financial, economic and technological dimension and this is evident in texts and criticism.

INGRID RUUDI: In our field, the position of the writer also plays a role: I think that there are more architects writing in the field of architecture than authors who define themselves as critics. If you ask whether criticism can change anything, I can immediately think of a multitude of texts that aim to shape opinions and educate citizens and decision-makers. For example, Toomas Paaver’s piece on the Sakala Centre saga11. Paaver, Toomas 2008. Mida õpetab Sakala saaga? Ehituskunst no. 49-50. is essentially criticism, but at the same time, its aim is to suggest a new way of processing plans. Or when examples of bad architecture by RKAS (Riigi Kinnisvara AS, State Real Estate Ltd) are called out, this public shaming aims at better practices in the future, since the requirements of quality should apply to them as users of public money. Or all the critical texts on issues related to planning… In this case, they are not abstract pieces, rather they belong to the field of specific current criticism. Architects generally write when they have a thorn in their side.

ANDERS HÄRM: In terms of architectural criticism, is it also important to take a position as a critic who consciously avoids contacts with the authors? A distance due to the desire for objectivity? Along the lines of ‘I am not corrupt, I have no personal relations, I can look at this objectively’. I, for example, rub the same wall with the artists every day, and this is why I feel I cannot get that distance from anywhere. This is also the reason I no longer write criticism.

INGRID: It is different in architecture, because this is not someone’s independent subjective work, but, in the case of buildings, an object with specific conditions. Talking to the author helps to understand the object better and this does not necessarily mean the loss of distance, but merely getting to know the circumstances. Then it is up to you which position you take. You can also walk into a room as a blank canvas, see how it makes you feel, how the light falls. What is important is the aim – what does the written text have to convey, and this is how you choose your position. However, the readers should find out something new from the text, something they may not guess or notice – some new information that would broaden their understanding and would help them to form their own positions. Some of this knowledge comes precisely from talking to the architect.

MAARIN: Is it important for the critic to know the expectations of the third party, i.e. the client? Does the critic tend to take the side of the architect or the client?

INGRID: I do not think that the critic should only explain and mediate the ideas of the architect.

MAARIN:  But what about a situation where the architect says ‘We wanted the best but with the client, it didn’t work out that way... Not enough money again’? Then it is quite obvious why the result is what it is.

INGRID: Something getting lost on the way is inevitable. I recently read Ralf Lõoke saying about one of his buildings that they are quite pleased with it – it came out more or less the way they designed it. There are simply so many parties and factors in architecture.

MAARIN: Who does the criticism address in the field of architecture?

INGRID: One thing people think less about is the fact that often the criticism is directed at planning documents, which create the conditions for design. The plan is the invisible part of the process and is not often dissected. Yet plans have legal power and architects of the building can make decisions about the given space within the limits of the plan.

MERLE KARRO-KALBERG: After all, the plans are also made by several people. Who should you target your criticism towards? The local government? The local government is a good anonymous institution to direct your anger at.

KARIN BACHMANN: In most cases, they are actually to blame.

INGRID: Another difference in terms of other kinds of cultural criticism is that in other fields, the product is taken into use when it is completed. In architecture, the logic is reversed. The product – the building – is the last thing to materialise.

JAAK TOMBERG: It is the usual case with architecture that everything is fine on paper, but then…

TRIIN: No, that is architecture on paper.

ANDERS: It’s the trend of the 1970s, which is prevalent in Estonia: architecture is on paper, what is completed is a building, a sum of circumstances.

INGRID: I guess you could say that. I invited Kalle Komissarov to speak to art history students of the Estonian Academy of Arts. He stressed on several occasions that the work of an architect is a project, paper, a document. The architect should do it as perfectly as he or she possibly can. Having defined everything in as much detail as possible, his or her contribution ends. In reality, of course, it doesn’t, but on a certain mental level it does.

MAARIN: So what do you actually write about? Seems complicated.

TRIIN: As a rule, you write about objects that have been completed, exist physically, and you don’t write about a project that is still lying in a drawer somewhere.

INGRID: I recall that in the case of the house built on the corner of Aia and Vana-Viru Streets in Tallinn, it seemed important to explain how it turned out this way. Although it may be difficult to understand, I did try to elaborate how a vision was initially submitted to the competition and it began to change gradually, also along with the changes in perceptions of heritage conservation.
However, if you ask architects, which kind of criticism they would like, the prevalent viewpoint is that there is no point in explaining things. Firstly, people will not understand anyway, and secondly, it does not seem important. The object itself is much more important, and engaging it in a dialogue, making new connections the architect did not even think of, etc.

MAARIN: Have you experimented with so-called ultra-subjective writing? Have you tried different formats, written haikus, essays, lists? Which genres are your favourites?

TRIIN: I have written a fictional essay about architecture for the publication Beyond, edited by Pedro Gadanho; the idea of the collection was indeed that architecture should be evocative, perhaps induce a dream or a fantasy, because no text can convey the experience of space with its own means alone, so to say. Generally with architectural criticism, a lot depends on who is writing it. Critics are usually very sharp and use history to make their point. But architects themselves, for example, often try to be literary and even poetic.

INGRIDI personally must say that writing criticism is more difficult than writing an academic text. In the case of the latter, you write about what you know, you have sources and references and a clear goal. However, a critical text sometimes progresses very slowly and painfully as I also try to find the fitting form of writing, etc. And since so few words are allowed, each and every one must carry enormous meaning and be just right.

ANDERS: An academic text is slacking off, criticism is precise.

INGRID: Unlike a long-winded article, a text of criticism is creative work. When I write, I want the text to be good as text itself.

TRIIN: We mentioned in the previous discussion that collections of criticism are nice to read, unlike, for example, collections of academic articles. Good criticism is akin to an essay. For instance, you keep rereading Hasso Krull’s collections, because his critical texts are enjoyable elements that create a whole.

MAARIN: One of the subjects already discussed in the school of criticism is the disappearance of the line between the so-called professional and amateur critics. Ott Karulin also wrote about it in Sirp.22. Karulin, Ott. Liftikriitika – paratamatus või mitte? Sirp, 27.09.2012. Like you said, we have about five respected architectural critics, but what is the situation in social media and the blogosphere?

INGRID: Surprisingly poor, considering how many people take photos of buildings and cities. There is a forum called skyscrapercity, where every single empty plot, building, new house is listed. Totally regardless of quality. They react immediately: they started building this or that over there. There is an insane amount of photos taken. But there are surprisingly few substantial blogs that also comment on the sites – almost none.

MAARIN: I also feel that there are more grass-roots blogs on the theatre and music world. There is also nothing in the art world; a few culture consumers who happen to go to an exhibition are the ones writing.

TRIIN: I suppose this maps the enthusiasts. There is an incomparably greater number of people interested in music and theatre than there are people interested in art or architecture. Today, it is also easier to take a photo and upload it than to write, we are living in very image-centered times…

JAAK: Is it distinctly felt that there are too few writers?

TRIIN and INGRID in unison: Yes, there are very few of them.

TRIIN: In my years as an editor I often experienced this: if you called someone outside the architecture circles and asked them to write about architecture, they got scared and told you ‘No, not me, I don’t know how to do that, what if I say something stupid’. To outsiders, architecture seems very profession-centered; you need to have a grasp of the vocabulary, the technology, the engineering, when talking about it. People rarely notice the human dimension.

INGRID: At the same time, a number of Flash lectures33. Flash lectures (Välkloengud) is a series of talks about architecture held by the Estonian Centre of Architecture., where people from different fields talk about architecture, have been astoundingly ignorant. Being a representative of some area of culture, you should be able to understand your neighbouring fields – is it any good or not. However, with architecture things are bad: it is as if people lose their intelligence and start talking about their home, or their dream home in a way that makes you think we’re still in the 19th century. It seems that architecture is so personal, utilitarian, prosaic that the intellectual filter disappears.

MAARIN: I’m interested in how much you work with your writers as editors? Do you ask them to change things, send the work back and forth? Or perhaps even avoid asking for a contribution by a beginner who needs training?

TRIIN: I have been very respectful as an editor, I have done very little editing. The main problem is of course the use of the vocabulary of modern digital technologies in texts – there are no Estonian matches, only a few people understand them in their original form and they automatically give the text a very specialised feel.

INGRID: My texts have been changed extremely seldom. And I suppose this is customary. As an editor, I once sent an article full of comments back to Karin Paulus and she was quite shocked by that. Even though she later said it was actually very nice. She just had not considered that she would have to work more with her text.

MAARIN: What has taught you the most as critics? Are you just writing or do you have your own first readers, personal editors?

TRIIN: I don’t know anyone who does. It is generally healthy to listen to the so-called voice of the people, someone who is not close to the field: our machinery of concepts and the words we use in our texts have a field of meanings that is often difficult to understand for outsiders; all that ‘public space’, ‘quality of space’ and ‘flowing and undulating surfaces’, etc.

INGRID: I certainly would have written only about half of what I have written if it hadn’t been for Triin urging me to finish another article.

TRIIN: At first I thought that I’d submit my very first article for the article collection handout of this school of criticism, which was incredibly bad. In the late 1990s, I wrote in Eesti Päevaleht about one of the first modern houses in Kadriorg, the tin box by Raivo Puusepp on the corner of Vilmsi and Raua Street, and tried to squeeze all kinds of theoretical stuff into it. Every third word was a foreign word in italics… In conclusion – a very bad text. I have certainly learned that when you write, you have to think about who your audience is.

MAARIN: However, sometimes you need time for reflection. You can churn out texts on your own but you need external impulse and criticism to evolve.

ANDERS: Only self-criticism evolves alone.

MAARIN: Do you get a lot of feedback for your texts?

INGRIDYou don’t get feedback in Estonia. There have been a few isolated instances of an architect as the subject of the text making a comment. For example, the architects Kaja Pae and Siiri Vallner have said that I wrote something they did not think of. In general, no one says anything – neither good or bad. I would like to have more feedback, but I do not know where to get it.

TRIIN: I had a case in the late 1990s when I wrote a critical article about the sod-roofed house in Viimsi in Eesti Ekspress. The architect then proceeded to call my husband and demanded why he doesn’t check what his wife is writing at home.

MAARIN: What about pointers for an architectural critic just starting out? Start a blog? What else?

INGRID: Travel as much as you can. Architecture, just like art, can be studied by observing it in real life. So get a lot of money somehow and look at different houses in different places… The real experience of space, the environment and details give so much more than just the recurring familiar images.

TRIIN: And get over self-criticism and write as much as you can. Every word is paramount for beginners, everything you say seems crushing and fundamental. That is not the case in reality.

ANDERS: In this case, I agree with Rein Kilk, who said that he would never give a loan to someone who has not experienced bankruptcy. You can apply this to the field of criticism, too. If you don’t write, you never learn how to write better. You may not improve, but at least you are giving yourself a chance to evolve.


Dry facts of everyday issues – some thoughts about architectural criticism


The debate on architectural criticism – or rather, the lack of it – has been going on in Finland for at least the entire length of my career, i.e. some 30 years. Usually, accusations of a lack of criticism are addressed to newspapers,1. Particularly Helsingin Sanomat, the biggest daily in Finland, which is generally accused of a lack of all kinds of criticism.but the same complaints are made about radio, TV and, more recently, professional journals. Lack of criticism has been considered as having a negative effect on the progress of and general lack of knowledge about the field, as well as on general interest in the culture of building and architecture.

True, similar claims have been made about a decrease in both the quality and quantity of cultural criticism in other fields, such as the visual arts, drama and dance. The only exception seems to be literature, whose stakeholders seem to be at least moderately satisfied with the state of things. It is quite clear that a review of a play or a concert, for example, catch the reader’s interest, whether positive ('that’s something I’d like to see') or negative ('I’m not sure I agree'). Criticism generates discussion and helps artists to contextualise their work within the professional community. This makes it even stranger that so little gets written about our built environment – our everyday companion, whether we like it or not – and even then, often with little knowledge. I take it for granted that anyone reading this text of mine probably agrees on the need for proficient criticism in architecture and the arts in general.

Hannu Olkinuora, the editor-in-chief of Hufvudstadsbladet, a Swedish-speaking daily published in Helsinki, crystallises the sad state of Finnish cultural criticism in a recent column: 'The agony over the state of cultural journalism has gained symptoms which tell not only of an intellectual recession but also the confusion among publishers of journalism. It's an eternal issue: does culture sell media?' Olkinuora fears that national criticism will disappear, with newspapers focusing on local matters, and ends his polemic comment by saying: 'Let us promote the whole range of criticism, even when it includes competing media. Can we see beyond the interests of our own medium? Does mutual competition prevent this? The die-hard readers of arts criticism appreciate a range of options; why should we not cater to them? It is perfectly clear that they will be critical towards our standard of criticism, whatever we do.'22. Olkinuora, Hannu. Kriitiikkiä kritiikittä. The Finnish Cultural Foundation Pirkanmaa Regional Fund web column (January 2010). Available from here.

Are we, thus, moving over to local criticism, or is international criticism diverging from national? With regard to architecture, the latter seems to be taking place – national criticism disappearing, that is – but the lack of genuine, constructive and progressive criticism seems to loom over the international playground as well. I agree with what Olkinuora says about reader feedback, but with a decrease in criticism, the audience has fewer opportunities to acquaint themselves with multi-faceted criticism, which, in turn, means a decrease in the standard of media criticism.



When writing this article, I read a compilation of selected articles published a year ago by the GAU:DI programme, 'Looking at European architecture: a critical view'.3. Lemaire, S., Pourtois, C., Vermeulen, C. and Murray, I. (eds.) 2008. Looking at European architecture: a critical view. CIVA: Bruxelles.In the introduction, Joseph Rykwert, whom I greatly respect, talks about the role of criticism in all human activities, and refers to Vitruvius: 'Buildings... could not have been improved progressively without mutual criticism. In fact, criticism was the prime impulse in the formation of language and the essential social bond.' Rykwert continues: '... criticism is all-pervasive and has always accompanied the activities of builders. You might even say that the only way to avoid criticism is not to build.'44. Ibid., p. 19

By default, criticism does exist and it is constantly applied to developing the field. Why, then, do we rarely see it published? Why is it so scarce and of such uneven quality? One reason might be the fact that architects and other stakeholders in the field are not accustomed to engaging in discussion outside of professional publications.


A couple of years ago we were planning a course aimed at writers interested in architecture. The idea was to get together a group of six to ten people, mostly journalists with an interest in architecture, who would have authored and criticised texts – articles, radio columns, interviews – for existing media. The group would have convened once a month, and received criticism from not only peers but also editors of professional journals, experienced freelance writers, architects and designers. In spite of several grant applications, the course is still awaiting financing from enthusiastic sponsors.

At least in Finland, there is no training for writers who understand architecture: the field is challenging, and studies in, say, art history or journalism, hardly provide sufficient competence in understanding functionality or structural engineering. The only people currently possessing enough competence to evaluate the technical or functional quality of buildings are their designers and users. The architects, however, are most reluctant to publicly review their colleagues’ creations – it is considered unethical. The professional circles in Finland are very small, and as mentioned above, an individual review may spark disproportionate reactions. No professional wants to be involved in something like that. Moreover, it is easy to be labelled as a 'mere' critic, as the combination of critic and practising architect seems to rarely work. Also, the criteria applied to evaluating buildings should be extended to include not only to aesthetical but also – increasingly – ethical objectives and environmental considerations (such as carbon footprint). Visual qualities are given far too much space, ignoring the context of the immediate vicinity and the users. Criticism in the new millennium is still looking for an optimal solution. In this new era, we might find excellent architectural critics among, for example, psychologists or energy economy experts.

In fact, we must bear in mind that there is indeed a strong existing practice of architectural criticism, and traditionally not without ruthless assessment: the critique sessions of architecture schools. The problem is that during these sessions, interested external critics or journalists are not normally present. It would indeed be great if students of journalism and art history, or newspaper journalists specialising in culture were every now and then invited to attend critique sessions at architecture schools in order to learn the vocabulary and see how future professionals are being educated. A common language would at least provide a sound basis for functional criticism.

Criticism should also be delegated: the users of a building are usually a good source of criticism. When I was the editor-in-chief of 'Arkkitehti, the Finnish Architectural Review', I often asked users’ opinions of the buildings we were going to feature. I can give one example of the immaturity of architects and the problems involved in using user feedback: One time an architect whose building we were going to feature threatened to withdraw the project from publication5. I.e. forbid us from using the drawings and photographs he had submitted.

6. With a bit more perspective, I think now that I should have just published the project without the architect’s own images.
if we chose to publish the criticism received from users – which was, in my opinion, quite mild and appreciative of the architect.6

In addition to immaturity in receiving criticism, I think that in Finland we have great problems with the quality of criticism; architectural criticism lacks a sound basis, is flimsy in structure and is written by a mere handful of people. When I launched the professional evaluations of renovation projects (mainly concerning 1950s buildings) in ptah, the magazine published by the Alvar Aalto Academy, we were faced with a lack of competent writers. Every available expert was also a practising architect, and after publishing a couple of projects, it dawned to me that we were heading towards a situation in which people were evaluating each other’s works. No doubt this would have been interesting and educating, but the lack of objectivity would have undermined the endeavour.

Earlier, we had bumped into a similar small-country problem within the editorial board of the Finnish Architectural Review, when we discussed the possibility of also featuring poor architecture and downright disgraces in every issue. The Architectural Review, the distinguished British journal, provided an example of such a practice in those days. Yet this plan was, again, not to be. We felt that the very first 'disgrace' article was likely to receive too much publicity in relation to its actual significance: the pressure directed at an individual architect would have been out of proportion, and merely poor architecture would have appeared tremendously so.

When criticism is scarce, a modest blow may generate huge waves: some topics grow out of proportion, while others with more societal significance may be largely ignored. Later in this article I will discuss some possibilities for developing professional architectural journalism.


The book published by GAU:DI mentioned above may sport an off-putting pink layout and a dull Bauhaus typeface (English-speaking section), but the articles are interesting.

They have all been previously published in newspapers, books, architectural reviews, etc. They cover architecture from a broad perspective – at least when it comes to geography – and from various approaches, and in fact provide a nice insight into the state of criticism around Europe (the book includes one article from 27 different countries); I assume the longlist from which they were selected had been long enough.

The editors have done a diligent job, and the original sources are clearly indicated. This tempted me to carry out a small survey. The order of the articles presented in the table below does not match their order in the book; instead, the order is entirely unscientific and roughly corresponds to the size and significance (judged by the possible readership) of the publication. I have also assumed that a long article in an international exhibition catalogue reaches a wider audience than a highly specialised text in, say, a Finnish-language book.

Some conclusions may be drawn from the – admittedly slightly irrational – list above. It seems that large dailies are interested in the presentation of individual projects. Only a handful of writers, small-scale architectural or cultural journals, and conference and theme compilations aimed at architects are interested in the state of architecture and architectural criticism. You can also notice that the articles covering these topics are generally longer than the rest, requiring a longer attention span from the reader.

Cityscape change is a true classic: the articles are accepted by all kinds of publications, and seem to particularly attract the readers of large-circulation professional journals. The small-circulation student journal is virtually the only medium to approach the built environment through experience: this was perhaps the most interesting general-topic article in the entire book. Criticism related to urban culture (the social responsibility involved in development) mainly appears in texts by writers from the former Eastern Bloc. Perhaps we are so accustomed to property speculation in Western Europe that we no longer care to write and read about it – or is it that the examples in the West are slightly less flagrant and the structure of our societies more established, which prevents us from paying attention to uncontrolled urban change? A further comment: the bigger the publication, the more compact the article. Judging by the data above, building preservation is not a topic that the media is interested in in general, but a high-quality article may attract a wide audience beyond professional circles.

In conclusion, we might say that if you want to publish in a large-scale medium, it pays to write short reviews of individual buildings or architects. If you want to discuss the state of architecture or architectural criticism on a more general level, you may start from the assumption that your readership will largely remain in academic – or otherwise limited – circles. I dare to suspect that my small contribution on this subject here belongs to this group.

We might also conclude that daily papers are likely to buy a short popular article on the state and trends of architecture; and correspondingly, a professional journal is more eager to feature a profound professional evaluation of a given project.


In addition to the comments presented in the conclusion above, critical articles could explore the following topics:

Does the building meet the objectives and requirements related to function, urban structure and culture? What is its contribution to the immediate vicinity: does it anchor, provoke, or something else?

The architect normally carries social responsibility for their work. Does this show in the outcome? Did the design involve ethical objectives?

Has the project contributed to human interaction and the goals of democratic society? Has the building contributed to the creation of a better environment or promoted well-being?

Today, design and development are to a great extent teamwork. The more flexible the teamwork, the better the outcome. Does this show in design and the built environment?

Have environmental considerations been taken into account? What is the carbon footprint of the building? Have local materials, designers and builders been used?

Is the overall gestalt of the building experiential, unique and holistic – or distancing and alien to the genius loci? Is it an island or a part of a larger continent?

Does the building contribute to the development of art or science? Is the philosophy of the mission innovative, and have the goals of the design been met?


Recently, I was interviewed on the basics of architecture for a TV show. The interview is part of a project comprising 15 episodes themed under 'culture for dummies'. It will cover more or less the entire sphere of civilisation and culture, and architecture, too, is given its 30 minutes. A couple of questions posed to me (the majority of which revolved around our national relationship to our most international architect, because of my primary occupation) still linger in my thoughts.

Interviewer (Tuomas Enbuske): 'It is often said that the tastes of architects are different from those of the common folk. Is this true?'

TE: 'What makes a top architect?'

TE: 'Which architects should be part of everyone’s general education?'

TE: 'Does an architect have to make compromises?'

Sometimes it is a good idea to approach things at the grassroots level. My replies to the questions above are not relevant here, but I think the interviewer’s approach was interesting and thought-provoking. Perhaps also those who write about architecture should keep in mind such general questions – that at least the Finnish audience is interested in – when writing their next piece of criticism.

Let us introduce
Few questions to the editors of architectural magazines. Mapping the field of Estonian architectural journalism



1. What were the specific reasons for founding the publication and on which grounds is the publication operating today?

Diivan (Sofa) is a publication owned by the Ühinenud Ajakirjad Publishers and initially founded by Presshouse. From the very beginning, the mission of the magazine has been to introduce the best product design and interior design in Estonia and we aim to maintain a lifestyle section that corresponds to the values of our readers, introducing restaurants, hotels, architecture and art.

2. What motivates the publishers/editors to engage in this field?

Since Diivan has become the only publication that focuses on Estonian design and interior design to such an extent, it is largely a publication that is created with a small editorial staff and contributors who take an interest in the field.

3. What has been the idea behind your choice of composition/format and how do you choose what you write about? What are the criteria for publishing articles?

Diivan’s selection of subjects has remained unchanged for years, we have found our niche and readers, and plan to stick with design and interior design. We try to find the most topical subjects and the freshest good design, give an overview of products introduced at important fairs and also offer inspiration for people decorating their homes. Articles that meet these criteria and only very high quality photos constitute what we publish in our magazine.

4. Where do your articles come from? How many texts, subjects, objects are you being offered and how many do you ask yourselves?

The articles are mostly written by our two-member editorial staff and a small circle of contributors. We value interior photography of the highest quality and most of our photos are taken by Terje Ugandi, although our regular contributors also include Arne Maasik, Tõnu Tunnel, Kaido Haagen. We find our subject matter in our everyday communication with the professionals of the field; the fairs in Milan and Stockholm are also very inspiring.

5. Who is your reader? What is your print run?

Diivan’s readers are Estonian people with good taste and an interest in design and architecture, there are also many professionals working in the field of design and interior design among them. A large part of our readers are people currently decorating their homes (whether on their own or with the help of an interior designer), however, half of the readership is made up of people who have been following the magazine for years to find inspiration – the public spaces featured in our magazine are interesting even for people who have no plans for a new room at home or at the office.

Our readers are mostly city-dwellers with an above average income. Although on a personal level, we highly value the work of landscape architects, our publication does not cover landscape architecture or gardening – we have left these subjects to our colleagues at the magazines Kodu&Aed and Meie Kodu.  

The magazine’s print run is not public.



1. What were the specific reasons for creating the publication and on which grounds is the publication functioning today?

Ehituskunst (The Art of Building) was founded in 1981 and back then, it was edited by the architects of the so-called Tallinn School or the Tallinn Ten, headed by Ain Padrik, Ignar Fjuk and Ado Eigi; in later years, Leonhard Lapin was the main editor. Ehituskunst began as the yearbook of the Union of Estonian Architects; younger and brighter architects from design institutes wished to discuss architecture, to publish articles on urban construction, space and residential construction on a mass scale. The name of the journal was borrowed from the book by the same name by Estonia’s first generation modernist Edgar Johann Kuusik, which was published in 1973 and became the handbook of architectural philosophy for the generation.

Today, Ehituskunst is the publication of the department of architecture of the Estonian Academy of Arts and has taken a more academic approach. It is published as per its inception – once a year.

2. What motivates the publishers/editors to engage in this field?

Ehituskunst is a collection of articles, which, to lend a phrase from food culture, is essentially slow food. Articles do not have to be topical, instead they are deliberative; manifestos, essays, academic articles…

3. What has been the idea behind your choice of composition/format and how do you choose what you write about? What are the criteria for publishing articles?

Every issue includes at least one peer reviewed article. So far, we’ve had a theme that connects the articles in some way every year. We select texts that would also be interesting to read in years to come.

4. Where do the articles come from? (How many texts/subjects/objects are you being offered and how many do you request/commission yourselves?)

Every year, we announce an open call for submissions that attracts proposals from Estonia as well as from abroad. We make the selection based on the abstracts we’ve received. The last time we received around ten submissions. However, we often also invite people to write for us.

5. Who are your readers? What is your print run?

Our readership spans from architectural students to pensioners, from philosophers to graphic designers, but it is mainly architects who are interested in more than the mere pragmatic side of architecture. The print run is 500 copies.


ERAMU & korter

1. What were the specific reasons for founding the publication and on which grounds was the publication operating?

Prior to becoming IDEE in the spring of 2014, ERAMU & korter (The Private residence & apartment) went through several transformations. If I remember correctly, it began as a project album. The aim of the album was to introduce fine architecture and good authors to the so-called ordinary people, unlike the magazine MAJA, edited by Triin Ojari, which positioned itself as a publication made by professionals aimed at professionals. 

My decision to edit the magazine came from three impulses. Firstly, not unlike the owners of Solness, I wanted to popularise the field of architecture. To demonstrate good architecture on the one hand (I still wonder what the Scandinavians are eating, so that the aesthetic sense of even the ‘average person’ is so good), and to introduce architects as persons on the other hand. Architects are unfairly invisible within society. In addition, I was captivated by the creative potential of editing a magazine, the opportunity to work out the logic of subjects, the structure, to look for stories and writers – to be a theatre producer.

2. What motivated the publishers to engage in this field?

I am motivated to engage in space, both in practice as well as a magazine editor by the conviction that a good space could significantly increase our quality of life. Starting from the logical planning and ending with cosy lighting.

3. What was the idea behind your choice of composition/format and how did you choose what you write about? What were the criteria for publishing articles?

When I started out at ERAMU & korter, a system had taken shape under the editorship of Karen Jagodin: the number of articles, the volume, the aesthetics of the architecture covered, the circle of contributors (writers and photographers) – i.e. the character of the coverage. My preference is for creating a system and sharing responsibility. With ERAMU & korter, I initially mapped the types of articles (a portrait of an architect, a story of the interior design of a specific location, a story on a landscape site, a contemplation on space by a non-architect, etc.) and determined their frequency of publishing (from once a year to once every issue) – while keeping intuitively in mind that the magazine should also give the ‘ordinary person’ an adequate overview of the field of architecture. Secondly, I introduced a board to the publication. It consisted of an interior designer, an architect, a landscape architect, a ‘bystander with an interest in design’ and a person from the field of communications. We worked out the skeleton of the new issue and selected the people and sites to introduce in it.

In parallel with compiling the issues I began a general analysis with communications specialist Kristi Jõeäär to improve the position and readership of the magazine. We mapped the target readership using a focus group, which, for example, revealed that the publication could be a lifestyle magazine.  

As previously said, I commissioned articles from the circle of authors established by Karen Jagodin, in the same volume and style. When commissioning an article, I gave the author some keywords to use as the basis of writing, to avoid a retelling of spaces in the style of ‘there is a cupboard in the room, the cupboard is brown’. Since the publishers do not have an editor, I initially proofread the articles myself and then forwarded them to the copy editor. This gave me a very good overview of how people write, who can be asked for an article and who should be ruled out as an author.

4. Where did your articles come from? How many texts, subjects, objects were you being offered and how many did you ask for/commission by yourself?

Finding pieces was a mechanical activity. I first called all my interior designer and designer friends and asked about the work they had done. Then I went through the contacts on the website of the Estonian Union of Interior Architects (I contacted the designers who, according to my intuition, fitted the profile of our magazine). After a year, there were moments when an author contacted me and offered a complete article. There were a few instances where the article or site was suggested by the author.

5. Who was your reader? What was the size of your circulation?

The circulation of ERAMU & korter was 1,500; I do not know the circulation of IDEE. Before me, ERAMU & korter had not mapped its readers, in co-operation with Kristi it was defined as follows.

Target group: 35+ well-off people (net income starting from 1,800 euros per month), who own or are acquiring a second or third home, are interested in high quality interior design, architecture and design that stands out. They are interested in the field and wish to be up to date about novel and versatile solutions. They are looking for information and inspiration from the magazine to freshen up their home, add details or create a new home. The majority of the buyers of the magazine are women, but in the future, we see a 30 percent share of men. Professionally, they are mostly head of small or medium-sized enterprises, specialists or mid-level managers of large companies, esteemed specialists who have attained a sense of security in their profession and are recognised or have made achievements in their field (i.e. a marketing specialist who has won advertising awards, increased the turnover, or other performance indicators). Architecture, culture and design are a counterbalance to their daily business-centered world. The representative of the target group is outward-focused, has a critical mind and is curious and open to new things. It is important for them that good quality culture can be consumed and accessed easily. They know how to enjoy good food and drinks, are prepared to pay a reasonable price for quality. They are intelligent and actively socialise with their peers. At the same time, they are open and friendly to people with a different background. The representative of the target group is socially responsible, but not extreme.



1. What were the specific reasons for founding the publication, and on which grounds is the publication operating today?

The magazine MAJA (The House) was founded in 1994 by Ado Eigi, Kalle Vellevoog and Enn Rajasaar (AS Solness). Back then, the largely theory-focused black and white magazine Ehituskunst, edited by Leo Lapin, was published under the auspices of the Union of Estonian Architects.

The aim of MAJA was to prioritise coverage of new Estonian architecture and interior design, drawing comparisons with international experience and practices.

Today, MAJA is published by MAJA OÜ, the subsidiary company of Solness Arhitektuurikirjastus OÜ. It is the only publication of the publishing house. To a large extent, the publication of MAJA is subsidised by the Architecture Endowment of the Estonian Cultural Endowment. The board of the editing team is wide-ranging: the Union of Estonian Architects, the Estonian Society of Interior Architects, the Estonian Society of Art Historians and the Architecture Endowment of the Estonian Cultural Endowment all name their representatives.

2. What motivates the publisher to engage in this field?

The wish to build bridges in society and the need to consider space and how it is created, it is a constant process. Certainly, also the wish to promote and professionally analyse the best works of Estonian architects, both in Estonia as well as internationally, which is why the magazine is largely bilingual – the main articles are published in Estonian as well as English.

3. What has been the idea behind your choice of composition/format and how do you choose what you write about? What are the criteria for publishing articles?

The format of the publication comes from the need to develop specialised and critical thinking (our main target group are professionals), but also to improve social cohesion in a broader sense (all readers). The structure of every issue stems from a currently relevant main theme, both in terms of critical thematic articles as well as projects that have been chosen for coverage.

4. Where do your articles come from? How many texts, subjects, objects are you being offered and how many do you request/commission yourselves?

In my experience, all articles have been commissioned so far – they are carefully selected and considered pieces. We are also offered material from time to time, but these articles are usually put on hold indefinitely, because their subject or approach are not relevant at the given moment.

5. Who is your reader? What is your print run?

I do not have any specific statistical data, but to my knowledge, our magazine is mostly read by professionals: architects, architecture critics, but also more knowledgeable subscribers and enthusiasts with a broad outlook. The print run is currently 1,000.



The idea to create an urban section in Müürileht (The Placard) was born because every cultural publication worth their salt should have a section for architecture. There came a moment when urban studies and urban space became a subject of active discussions in a broader context. It was clear then that our sphere (where Müürileht operates) needs a platform like that. At the same time, many people dealing with these subjects appeared and a distinct new discourse in need of an outlet was born.

2. What motivates the editors to engage in this field?

Something is always happening in the city, there are always opinions on that and it is good to read about it. The city is also a location and an engine, a part of the process, influencing it and being influenced by it.

3. What has been the idea behind your choice of composition/format and how do you choose what you write about? What are the criteria for publishing articles?

We try to match the articles on architecture to the rest of the paper, but it is not a strict policy. The coverage depends on the writers and what they feel passionate about. Since we obviously cannot commission pieces (we have no funds for paying writers’ fees), it is difficult to implement investigative journalism in urban issues.

However, there are exceptions when a location or event is a special focus of attention, for example the plans of Kultuurikatel – the piece by Francisco Martínez is the most read in Müürileht!

4. Where do your articles come from? How many texts, subjects, objects are you being offered and how many do you ask yourselves?

Since Veronika Valk was so competent in her niche, me as the editor-in-chief usually never saw the articles on urban issues. They were usually sent directly to her and she decided what was suitable for publishing (whether for us or Sirp, she used to be an editor in both). She was recently chosen as the advisor on architecture and design at the Estonian Ministry of Culture and this would have created a conflict of interests. This is the reason we currently have no editor of the urban section and it is sorely felt. From the March 2015 edition onwards, Sille Pihlak is editing the section on architecture, but her field of specialty is architecture, not urban space in the broader sense.

5. Who is your reader? What is your print run?

Our reader is intelligent, up to date with trends, innovative, open, unprejudiced, with a broad outlook, emphatic, usually has a higher education or is in the process of getting one.

Our print run is 4,500, and 700–800 of it are shipped to shops and subscribers – the rest is distributed to new locations every time, according to the new system. Instead of being available for free, the paper is now on sale, but since it is difficult to organise selling in the previous places of distribution (entrance halls, schools, lounges, galleries), we are more dependant on conventional sales through Lehepunkt. To be more visible and available, Müürileht can be found for free in locations where we would be most likely to be picked up by potential new readers. For example, we gave away a part of our last print run to universities and upper secondary schools, next time the paper could be distributed in public transport or some smaller towns – depending on specific events taking place and the relevance to the issues covered in the paper.



1. What were the specific reasons for founding the section dedicated to space and on which grounds is the section operated today?

The cultural weekly Sirp (The Sicle) began regular coverage of the built environment in 2010. In these five years, the paper has had three architecture editors: Margit Mutso, Veronika Valk and currently Merle Karro-Kalberg. Architecture affects our public space and therefore, the issues of the built environment are no less important than the issues of art, theatre or cinema. In 2013, during the so-called Sirp scandal, architecture as a section disappeared for a few issues, but after Ott Karulin became the editor-in-chief, the continuity was restored.

2. What motivates the editors to engage in this field?

Sirp is the only publication in Estonia that consistently covers issues related to the built environment and design every week, without the burden and hassle of writing project applications and reports.

3. What has been the idea behind your choice of composition/format and how do you choose what you write about? What are the criteria for publishing articles?

Since Sirp is published weekly, we can react quickly to bring current affairs to the readers. According to the format of Sirp’s articles, important issues can be covered more extensively and in-depth. The subjects of Sirp are usually assembled around the keyword of the issue (for example Audience, Copyright, Awards) which also moulds the choice of articles. A good Sirp article should be a dense enjoyable text that not only conveys the idea but is also a pleasure to read. Admittedly, it is very difficult to publish texts in the field of architecture that would speak to architects and film critics alike. Pieces that go into the details of the built environment will not engage specialists of other fields. Articles that are eagerly read by others are boringly superficial for people who have an in-depth knowledge of architecture. Finding a balance is a challenge.

4. Where do your articles come from? How many texts, subjects, objects are you being offered and how many do you request/commission yourselves?

The majority of texts are commissioned, offers of contributions are rarer.

5. Who is your reader? What is your print run?

The readership of Sirp is very wide on the one hand, encompassing  musicians, public figures, theatre critics, filmmakers, architects, etc. On the other hand, there is a small circle within that readership that appreciates a dense and good text, can think along and is interested in the relations of culture and society. The print run of Sirp is 5,000.



1. What were the specific reasons for founding the publication, and on which grounds is the publication operating today?

Linnalabor (Estonian Urban Lab) began compiling the Urbanists’ Newsletter U in 2010. The initial aim was to send the newsletter via e-mail every two months to cover important events in the field, and also to publish longer theoretical and deliberative texts and urban photography. Largely thanks to the enthusiasm of the editors, the newsletter gradually grew into a voluminous online magazine, which increasingly focused on theoretical issues. Renaming the newsletter as a review in 2012 expressed this shift of emphasis in terms of content. The pdf file published six times a year has become a bilingual and rather voluminous online review published twice or three times a year. The content of the review takes shape according to the intuition of the editors and in the form of special issues. The interdisciplinarity of urban studies allows us to delve into visual, social as well as strictly spatial issues and therefore the enthusiasm is still there.

2. What motivates the editors to engage in this field?

Publishing U depends on a rather wide circle of people, and as editors we are glad that we have directed the visuals, programming, translations and language editing in the hands of professionals. The editing team of U has a background in Urban Studies at the Estonian Academy of Arts and the motivation comes from the wish to promote the subject, delve into interesting issues, start a discussion and create networks. Even though U's appearance is rather clear-cut, we try to defy boundaries (state- and speciality-wise) – with each new issue we redefine our positions, the team is international, U has gained its own readership and list of contributors outside of Estonia. 

3. What has been the idea behind your choice of composition/format and how do you choose what you write about? What are the criteria for publishing articles?

U is published in special issues – we have focused on the broader theoretical structure (for example, special issues on peripheries and post-socialism) as well as specific cities (we have published special issues on New York, Berlin and Helsinki). Special issues are usually connected to topical events (for example, the special issue on the post-socialist city was published in connection with the Urban and Landscape Days). We have no criteria as such, because the articles are born voluntarily and since we cannot pay any fees to our authors, the editors put more effort into finding and persuading contributors, and later into editing texts and giving feedback.

4. Where do your articles come from? How many texts, subjects, objects are you being offered and how many do you request/commission yourselves?

U’s articles are born both as commissions as well as submissions. Several authors have studied, or are still studying subjects related to (built) space at university, are linked to U’s publisher Linnalabor, or other urban-related events in some way. U is also involved in republishing and translating articles, thus bringing urban theory closer to the reader and contributing to the urban studies vocabulary in Estonian. We also exchange articles with Müürileht and other independent publications. In recent issues especially, the principle of collage has clearly emerged – U is less and less a topical newsletter and is increasingly involved with drawing together the main issues of the field and posing questions. 

5. Who is your reader? What is your print run?

U is an online publication, which is also available as a PDF and can be printed out. U has mapped its readership few years ago and found its average reader is aged 24–29, usually female, but coming from very different fields: local government officials, urban activists and researchers, freelancers or from the private sector, also a lot of students. In addition to being published online, U also appears on paper in co-operation with various partners (for example U15 (a special issue of Linnaidee (Urban Idea initiative), U16 (in co-operation with the Urban and Landscape Days) and the current issue, U17 (in co-operation with ÕU Magazine).



1. What were the specific reasons for founding the publication and on which grounds is the publication operating today?

The impulse to create the publication came from the lack of specialised texts in Estonian that would go beyond the everyday decorative gardening when covering the field. This demand has simply not been met by today, on the contrary – it has increased; we have a readership; and areas and angles worth introducing and opening up keep appearing. A couple of issues have usually been prepared in advance in our minds. Initially, we were published as the magazine of the Estonian Landscape Architects' Union, however, later it seemed that it would be easier to function as a separate non-profit organisation. Today, ÕU (The Yard) is published by the non-profit organisation Kino, and a circle of friends that we spend a lot of time with anyway, fill in as the team and editorial staff. We have no board of experts.

2. What motivates the editors to engage in this field?

We have developed a system, we don’t have the heart to stop now, at least we have not really considered it seriously (we do have doubts sometimes – ÕU sometimes lags behind our other projects and we don’t want to work half-heartedly). The magazine has fostered discussions, demonstrated what we do to anyone who is interested, trained the citizens to be up to date, to be critical and demanding, but also more lenient, obliging, open-minded. Looking at the increasing row of issues of ÕU on the shelf, we are happy about the texts and authors who we have urged to think about outdoor space.

Whereas the first issues were published with virtually no budget, we are now motivated by the fact that the Cultural Endowment considers our publication important enough to lend its support.

3. What has been the idea behind your choice of composition/format and how do you choose what you write about? What are the criteria for publishing articles?

The physical format was formed according to the wish to fit the magazine in a pocket or purse. Every issue is published in a single colour (a chosen tone) print, with a full colour print sheet in the middle of the magazine. The content is founded on sections that find their names and titles when the texts are coming together. We have tried to keep a balance between theory and practice, when the subject allows it, and in addition to thinkers and opinions we have also introduced completed projects. The theme of the issue is formed as a combination of relevancy and the preferences of the editorial staff at the given moment. We have tried to turn the covers of the latest issues of ÕU into a multi-purpose advert/calling card – for example, a foldable model or ruins (the latter by the illustrator Ulla Saar), a contour map to be coloured, etc. We would like to keep including visual artists in the making of the covers to give their work a boost. The criteria for publishing articles is quality – the text has to be written well and correctly and must contain adequate information. It should be a good read.

4. Where do your articles come from? How many texts, subjects, objects are you being offered and how many do you ask yourselves?

We sent a call for submissions to the Estonian Landscape Architects' Union for the first issue, but since the circle of specialists of the field (who write) is quite small, this method did not justify itself for long. Every issue is framed by a broader subject and for this, we turn to authors ourselves, to put together a good set of writers. We have also commissioned articles from geographers, writers, historians and other people outside of our specialised field, to avoid getting stuck in our habitual tastes and methods. People offering us contributions is more of an exception.

5. Who is your reader? What is your print run?

We were first published in the framework of the international landscape architecture month as the publication of the Estonian Landscape Architects' Union in April 2009; the issue was rather experimental and the print run was 1,000. From then on, the print run has been 500. Our readers are specialists in this field and associated fields and also people who take an interest in outdoor space in general.



Planning as a critique

Critique can be regarded as cultural critique and interpreting a work of art after the fact, characterised by given consideration to a given work that appears complete, yet also by the critic’s subjective choices in defining the work and putting it into context. The latter are closely linked to a third element – a critical and assessing attitude that opens the starting point of the work. On the other hand, creating a work of art is a critical action in itself, which reveals the creator, the work and the world and assumes a position. Analysis of spatial planning and public space is also cultural critique, however, planning itself is also a form of critique.

Cultural critique is a part of culture and also part of contemplating and studying it; urban space critique, in turn, is a part of urban space culture, i.e. a critical participation in engaging the local environment (in addition to everyday activities and depictions) and also the reflective foundation of this relationship. Urban space critique is also an outlet and foundation of the theory of urban space (especially in the case of so-called critical theory). However, critique is not simply said about culture, it is also an integral part of space as a field of culture. In addition to cultural critique as a production of texts, it also constitutes socio-cultural critique in a broader sense. The history of architecture and urban planning is written as the story of outstanding social critiques, however, spatial planning is functioning as critical practice already at its most elementary level. In the consideration and functioning of public space, there are two central, overlapping but opposite processes – creating and using, even though the use of space is the creation of space and creation is the use of space. Both have their ideological and functional starting points, influences and constructions, which can be critically acknowledged and included in the dialogues of spatial planning.

Like other forms of critique, dealing with spatial issues takes the existing situation as its starting point. The latter is by no means a ‘work of art’ that exists on its own, instead it is defined along with planning. It is a location; opportunities, needs and problems in someone’s view within the context of an integrated world view. In the multitude of circumstances and relevant subject, the planner creates a comprehensive situation to engage. From a perspective chosen by his or her preference, the planner asks what is the situation (possibilities, problems, needs, conditions, limitations), what is important about it and how to consider it. Diversity in planning and urban theories largely stems from the selective highlighting of one or other dominant in the multidimensional nature of the situation. Each proposed spatial design originates from a notional world with its problems, needs, logical structure and functional links and can therefore be, in best cases, considered attractive from the outside, but not entirely understood in the same way.

Thus, planning or a project in a narrower sense (documents, drawings, the process) is mediation – it could also be said, the translation of one Utopian idea floating in its own juice into the concepts and values of another world. The central question here is on what level and by which means can common ground between different parties be found – a common vision of the space being created, which is still interpreted differently, a common understanding of problems, needs or values for assessing the shape and possibilities of the space. This is why the critical analysis of the worlds of participants could be what helps to reach a conclusion that is not merely mediation but a creative dialogue.

Therefore, the planner or other author of spatial designs is a mediator – not the person drawing up a commission or presenting arguments, but a person who sees the different definitions of reality of the parties and the needs stemming from them and can present them and compare them and also present his or her own ideas based on the paradigm of planning theory and personal views, which can be used as a basis for consecutive layers (problems, goals, solutions, agreements, etc). At the same time, the planner can choose (at least to some extent) a planning theory or rather a planning method. In other words, he or she can choose the object and manner of critique.

Naturally, this is just one case in the broader line of social dialogues. What is special is that public space can be both a being that entails possibilities and a being that can be divided, through which to divide starting points. The instruments for presenting and forming a plan, like drawings, descriptions, models and rules, on the other hand, are tools of dialogue – symbolic instruments for rephrasing the matters of closed worlds, that is to say, to make them understandable and connectable for others. Since these tools cannot be used for presenting a universal truth about public space, their value lies in the fact that they can be used to present what is in some way for someone – because a physical space is quite different for temporary users, local residents, owners, developers, officials, designers. This way, various tools can be used to present how space exists for different people and also to demonstrate how the designs still being planned affect different parties, to ‘mediate in advance’. In addition to grasping the entirety of the plan, it is also important to see the partialness of its functioning – because the use and the contemplation of space is always partial and at the same time, complete in its limited moment. A regional concept or vision competition that welcomes all participants of different backgrounds, therefore, gives an idea of the diversity of the region and the cohesion and disruptions in how it functions.

Planning as the critique (in the sense of the critique of the outdoors, communities as well as ideologies) functions on various levels, a relevant example could be made with the trio from Tartu, connected both through space and persons: the general plan of the city centre, the detailed plan of the bus terminal and the vision competition for the Annelinn district.1 1. The largest prefabricated housing area from the Soviet era in Tartu. 

The plan for the centre of Tartu has been based on a situation where the visions of the centre’s development have become outdated, yet the detailed plans demand decisions that are hindered by the inability to relate to the future. Instead of promptly drawing up the plan after a quick makeover, a long process lasting several years has invited various local and remote groups to participate and through them (apart from discussing details), it has included various basic views of the essence of the region both in the form of the worlds of actual participants as well as theoretical constructions as possible developments and needs. The residents, entrepreneurs and road users do not differ in their needs or preferences in terms of urban functions and design, but in the logic and basis by which they connect them – that should be the basis of the logic that helps us understand how the city centre functions and how to organise the complicated logic of the group of needs and possibilities. The process that closely connects various needs may result in a specified plan, but it happens without any serious critique or surprises. At the same time, a founding text of space and world view has been created, and its central function turns out to be to support communal constancy.

In the case of the detailed plan of the Tartu bus terminal (which admittedly involves conflicts that are more personal and related to recent history), the opposing starting points of the parties of the dispute become apparent. A critical view of the current situation is common, but when the solutions are conflicting in the assessments and models of, for example, traffic experts, there is an even weaker link in the assessments they are based on: the bus terminal, the Tasku centre, the Sadama neighbourhood, the city centre… For whom and for what and why at all? This way, the fundamental social critique most strongly manifests itself in the specific case of a confined outdoor space and not so much in the large-scale ideological shaping of urban space.

If you take the vision competition of Annelinn, aimed at open participation, as region-based, you would expect to see the entire richness of ways of understanding Annelinn. Every vision, as a precondition, presents a critique that opens and assesses the region. The basis of the proposed solutions is seeing the problems or opportunities, which, in turn, is based on an understanding of the region’s essence in itself or in a spatial, temporal, cultural or social context. Yet the competition submissions reveal that the starting task presented quite a defined object (the so-called pedestrian arc and rays) and a dominating understanding of the essence, problems and solutions of the region, which could be drawn out predominantly in the form of landscape architecture. Yet, a variation in the functional essence of Annelinn as a space of pedestrians (highlighted among all other aspects of the region) can be seen (for example, according to traffic, events, meetings, regular activities and observation). For a relatively compact collection of critique, the focus on pedestrians could seem to solve all problems, including the usability of space, maintenance, safety, traffic, communal identity, communication and mental health, recreational activities and economic growth. However, the cohesiveness of a world created from a single viewpoint ignores a large part of local diversity – including problems – to deal with them separately, for example, in the planning of parking, which one of the winning entries directly engages. In this, one of the problems in the cohesiveness of the region’s liveliness is the gap between how pedestrians and drivers experience space, to the point where the child coming home from school by foot and the parent driving home from work do not inhabit the same Annelinn in the cognitive sense and they have no idea where the other could be before reaching the front door – unless the parent has grown up in Annelinn, since the slides (the slippery lanes that appear when pavements freeze over) have remained the same.

It is precisely these personal relations with the environment that point to the essence of the critique of the outdoors – to enlighten, yet also to promote the ways of relating to the environment that originate from specific viewpoints. Planning, in turn, is a special moment in creating an environment and meanings, where the numerous relations of people and the environment meet. This multidimensionality gives rise to a moment especially rich in meanings, where the material, practical, symbolic and ideological nature of outdoor space and its reflection in culture engage – sometimes in conflict, sometimes in harmony – various parties, their (power) relations, world views and ideas of the future and the past, visions of the processes and situations related to design. Yet planning is only one of those moments when engaging the outdoor – the creation of rich meanings and often the ‘world of its own’ lies both on the pages of articles on the outdoors and art as well as in their everyday use.



Case study
Pictures of Annelinn

Photo: Kaja Pae

The vision competition organised by the Tartu city government to shape the living environment of the Annelinn district gave rise to many new ideas. Firstly, a few words on why Annelinn merited such attention in the first place.


The panel housing districts were often spoken of with prejudice both in everyday life as well as in the academic world. The Soviet apartment building districts of Eastern Europe differ from the analogous areas in Western cities, which is why the policy measures aimed at ‘especially problematic’ city districts, similar in appearance, cannot be applied here. Today, the suburbs and areas of cultural and historic value are admittedly the most valuable here as well, but this is linked to the diversification of the housing market. For example, people who are at an age when they may start a family, wish for larger living quarters. Today, this option is available, whereas decades ago, an apartment given by the state merrily housed several different families.

Yet there is a great number of city residents whose primary preference is to live in an apartment building. The young people who come to the city for their studies appreciate the fact that all of their free time is not spent on household chores. In the changeable life of a young person, the rented apartment is a safe choice. A stable family is increasingly created at a later stage in life and there are more young people living alone in the cities than there was years ago. Many young people who leave their family homes cannot afford high housing expenses, because some specialties have low salary levels despite a higher education. Whether we like it or not, there are many single parents or mothers and fathers who live alone after a divorce. Some people opt for a smaller home after their children have left home. Many older people who were once given a flat in the panel housing district are still living there. The Russian-speaking community is connected to the district through the opportunity of speaking in their mother tongue. Thus, the growing importance of small households is a demographic reality and Annelinn in Tartu and the Lasnamäe, Mustamäe and Õismäe districts in Tallinn have their own niche in the housing market.


There are complaints that the residents of panel housing districts are passive in shaping their living environment. However, can we expect the same level of activism from all communities of the city? Since the beginning of construction, the public authorities have had more responsibility here, and even now the districts are becoming an environment where many city residents spend some time and then move on. Whereas private investments today move proportionally to more prestigious districts, on the relative scale, the attractiveness of panel housing areas is falling and the growing rental market is taking shape in other parts of the city. Perhaps the greater presence of public authorities here is something natural in order to help these districts fulfill their current role better?

Intervention is complicated. New solutions demand an attentive mind to please all the groups of residents described above. An intervention from above or declaring the districts a so-called special region could do more harm than good to the reputation of the living environment.

Arriving at the subject of competition submissions, I can note that all 19 visions for Annelinn were compiled in the spirit of careful intervention and taking the local way of life into account. Several submissions floated common ideas and their special nuances mutually enriched possible solutions. I will try to create a mosaic out of ideas that came from works which were awarded prizes and were marked out, as well as otherwise very good submissions. 


The work titled Accelerator (Kiirendi) described the process of enlivening the walls of buildings, with local people meeting and comparing images projected on the wall. It gave an example of a natural activity that would help a community, which so far has had little contact with each other, gradually become better acquainted.

It was a rather common idea that the recreational outdoor activities, street games but also services, should be introduced by so-called small experiments. There is no guarantee that the local community will embrace one large investment to such an extent that it would give rise to catalytic development. However, some initially temporary endeavours could plant the seeds of a new culture. Experimenting will make it clearer as to what larger interventions Annelinn needs.

Several works toyed with the idea of urban gardening. The experience of gardening is not alien to the inhabitants of panel houses; many of them have shared their home between their flats and summer houses for years. The young coming to the city from the countryside are also not strangers to the green lifestyle. Trees with edible fruit, semi-private garden corners, green rooftops and courtyards that have been designed better than they are today could also increase ties to the living environment and offer opportunities for experimenting with one’s creativity. It is interesting that the subject of gardening spoke to many participants. There were differing visions on how far should one go in dividing the ‘public space’ currently used by everyone into public, semi-private and private. As an interesting objection, the submission Lighthouse (Majakas) suggested ‘modernising modernism’. On this issue also, the truth will probably be revealed through experimentation.

It was good to see that the majority of submissions saw Annelinn as a part of the entire city. For example, the area of schools at Kaunase Avenue, as part of the city-wide network of schools, is a familiar place not just to the residents of Annelinn alone, and larger sports buildings are also at the disposal of all city residents. The submission New Horizon (Uus horisont) suggested the idea of opening a climbing wall on the wall of one panel house, with the aim of attracting people from across the city and beyond. The submission Game (Mäng) wished to stretch the playgrounds and trails from Annelinn to the city centre. All these ideas would help bring Annelinn closer mentally to the rest of the city, diminishing the distance between the district and the city centre on the psycho-geographical map. Several submissions saw combining Annelinn and the surrounding green areas, turning the charms of the city and the countryside into one living environment.

A couple of other notable ideas pointed out the possibilities for having a sense of Annelinn as a whole and one’s own city district. For example, a smartphone application for recreational activities could be created, or the urban space could be enriched with outdoor furniture, creating a mini-model of Annelinn.

A consensus of opinions identified the arc and rays of pathways in the direction of Anne Street as the key to pedestrian space. A pleasant space was also created in the direction of Kaunase Avenue, culminating in the potential core area of a cluster of schools. Quite a few submissions tried to improve the network of streets by taking into account the natural routes of people. The open plan of Annelinn was viewed more as an asset, which could be highlighted with a gallery of walls or using the discomforts of autumn and winter (snow, wind, rain, darkness) creatively when designing the outdoor space.

The search for Annelinn’s identity also reflected a state of change. Some submissions tried to use details hailing from the pre-Soviet period, by, for example, employing the words of the Tartu dialect in place names, and as a counterbalance, suggesting a café in the style of the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic, turning the Soviet experience into a humorous selling point. It was fascinating to read submissions that delved deeper into history, as well as the visions of younger people ‘unhindered’ by the perception of the Soviet Annelinn.


There was no singular work that would leave all other visions aside and prompt the realisation of just one vision. I consider this to be the most positive outcome of the competition. Therefore, solutions are born gradually, step by step, in the course of discussions that include both experts educated in spatial subjects as well as the local population who have become experts through experience.

Writer's block

An attempt at short criticism

The editorial teams of U and ÕU asked the representatives of various fields to select an urban element – a location, a site or a building, regardless of its size or function – and write a review in their preferred style, borrowing the format of the 300-word record review. 

Photo: Andres Tennus


Until the late 18th century, Tartu was ‘a small wooden town’ with high-rise stone churches, which, after being repeatedly devastated by war, was turned into a university town with an imperial spatial atmosphere, centered around the university’s main building. Imperial classicism was fashionable all around Europe; it stood on the brink of a war of emperors. In some ways, this era was not unlike the period around the Second World War – grand schemes for rearranging Europe were competing with each other and stern architecture with a totalitarian appearance was built. 

Some time before peak oil, when it seemed that electrical light was an endless resource, several architectural concepts related to lighting were formed. One of them probably hailed from the ‘cathedrals of light’ of 1930s Germany and entails the lighting of architectural heritage during the night; as a rule, the light is directed upwards from the ground. This is the ‘museumisation’ of buildings. Another concept: in the winter, especially during Christmas, the buildings were decorated with tiny lights to add some endearing fabulous softness and sparkle to them. The buildings were being ‘Christmasised’.  

Now these three concepts, for several years, have been remixed together at the main building of the university. During Christmas, the six columns of the main building feature even strings of little lights an impression of a Christmas tree, while also emphasising the symbolic value of the columns as the metonymy of entire university, the columns gain certain lightness and slimness. During the Czarist era, the frontispiece was covered with intricate ornaments, with a two-headed eagle in the centre; it was later removed and the space was left blank. In the current remix, this component is perhaps the most successful, as it modernises the rather mute triangle and the result is an impression of a starry sky. It almost comes off as sublime; rarely have Christmas lights been so close to Kantian aesthetics (Kant died the same year the cornerstone of the main building was laid). The upper edge of the building is covered by a band with an ethnic pattern. This is the most ‘narrative’ element, its main function is to tell us that this is a national university. However, one must admit that visually it is slightly noisy, because unlike the columns and the portico, the cornice is not entirely blank, it already has its angular rhythm the folk motif stumbles on it and competes with it. However, another era shines through this noise the post-war nationalist classicism, where Stalinist pomp was domesticated with national ornaments that had taken shape during the Estonian Republic. This way, the cornice links with no less than three eras, and as such connects to the fourth a memorial to postmodernism gone by. 


Photos: Maarin Mürk


A city that aspires to be a metropolis cannot do so without skyscrapers – they symbolise power and the successful breeding of capitalism in that place. In order to communicate this ‘modernity’ of the city in the best possible way, the skyscrapers must look serious – and what can be more serious than a severe rectangle? Domineering in theory, their reflective facades, however, turn them into nothing more than a mere surface that the passers-by stop and stare at like magpies. The skyscraper is constantly dodging curious onlookers who would like to peek inside (because inside, Important Things like power and money are operating). When the weather is fine, the skyscraper blends into the sky and the clouds, acquiring the appearances of its surroundings like a chameleon – only a few harsh corners indicate that there is a house hidden beneath the moving clouds. It is also obviously beautiful to look at.

However, the high-rises only help to create the sense of a metropolis if they reflect EACH OTHER. Therefore, they must be located side by side. Standing apart, they can no longer hide themselves: the buildings come off as lost and alone, a house is again just a house, no matter how large.

When among the skyscrapers reflecting each other, you have a chance of going on a chaotic trip – you are immediately transported into a 'metropolis'. The reflections create a proper thicket of skyscrapers, a photogenic urban jungle with its cool and tastefully limited colouring. NB! In order to get this feeling, it is crucial NOT to understand how many buildings you are currently seeing; this way you can lose yourself in this cut up reality. An urban jungle reflects our dreams of intensity, multitude, getting lost, hiding ourselves, voyeurism – an urban feel that is often hard to come by in homely Tallinn. The soul sometimes yearns for the lights of the big city. 

In other words – there are few places in Tallinn where our so-called city allows us to feel for a moment that we are in some archetypal metropolis. For example, walking from the SEB Bank and the so-called Tornimäe buildings towards the so-called twin towers, for a brief moment, all you can see around you is reflective glass and high-rises. That moment lasts for about two minutes until the short stretch of street between local skyscrapers comes to an end. However, then you can cross the street to the Swiss Hotel and take a look at the Tartu maantee road from the hotel lounge on the 30th floor. There you can see the SEB building reflecting back from the Swiss Hotel itself, as well as other surrounding buildings. And voilà! A highway lined only by skyscrapers. This is it – a mindless metropolitan kaleidoscope. 


Photos: Robert Kähr


In the east, behind the nine-storey buildings of Mõisavahe and Nõlvaku, Russian swamps and steppes stretch out, the dried up Aral Sea, the semi-deserts of Central Asia and somewhere further away, the Tibetan Plateau and the Himalayas. This infinite emptiness of Asia seems to seep into the city from the east. Naturally, this can be felt most strongly in Annelinn and Hiinalinn (Chinatown). On the surface, the residents of these areas live modestly in their tiny rectangular rooms of their angular houses, argue and love, go to work and shop. However, their clenched souls yearn for the endlessness of the empty lands of the east. They create tiny private shrines in their garages and haphazardly built dachas between Hiinalinn and the crumbling Raadi airfield, where, when the sky above the city is open, they can break free of their small cube of a room and worship emptiness and remote places enveloped in a blue haze. The enormous maze-like sprawl of garages and dachas – they are intertwined, yet so different, poorly articulated, but reach out so strongly to infinity and emptiness. From every garage box, from each tiny vegetable patch, no matter how grimy, infinity begins, making the James Webb Space Telescope pale in comparison. The dacha region of Hiinalinn – it is a bountiful trove of various empty infinities. Walking around there, you can only admire and envy the fathomless and rich souls of men drinking beer and playing draughts in front of their garages and women arranging piles of pumpkins. 

Sometimes the emptiness of the east is especially intense and spills over to other parts of the city. I remember that it was at its most intense in the early 1990s. Back then, the winds of the prairies and tundras of Northern America poured into Annelinn through the Bering Strait, which had become extremely shallow; residents of the area vanished somewhere to the edge of non-existence, and you could wander around the streets of Annelinn like in the canyons edged into the beds of dried rivers, admiring the lights of skyscraper cities at the edge of the ocean in the distance. These were happy, poor times, when you had nothing and everything was possible. The east still spills into the city through Annelinn every dusty southern Estonian summer, although perhaps not as forcefully as back then. It is a time when all your friends have left town, nothing is happening and you feel slightly sad, but on the other hand, the ruthless dry winds of the steppes, the Tibetan Plateau and screwed-up mediterranean seas sweep across the entire city and strange visions pop into your head. 


Photos: Triinu Pungits


The winter prompts writing about the sidewalks: their state, what they are not, what they should not be like. In fact, about that particular one: the empty and bare sidewalk, which is snowless but still has a thin coating of ice, from Karlova to Karlova and back. A forbidden sledge ride, so natural for one and so unnatural for another. 

What do you mean it’s not allowed? It would be a nice ride, a long slide would bring such joy to the little pedestrian at the start of the day. The mood of a morning that begins with beauty and joy would help one to get through the entire tiring day. 

Living in a city and using shared space means acceptance and obedience. I obey and promise that I will not let my children ride down a hill on a sledge, will not pull them up it either, because the pavement could become slippery with excess sledging, as is stated in the repeated reprimand. I would not want to be the reason somebody falls later, because a sprinkling of sand would surely not help to prevent that. 

Where does one’s territory lie and what kind of logic turns public space into someone’s private property? You even find yourself reacting to a strange intruder and people parking at your doorstep – not allowed here! You yourself cause trouble, annoyance, and distress. An ordinary unplanned morning slide can mean hurting someone unexpectedly. 


Photo: Liina Lelov


Little boys and girls were climbing on the walls of the canal. Some places were better for climbing down, others were for climbing up. Some spots were a challenge – is it even possible to get up or down? They fell, scraped their knees and elbows. Like in the countryside, yet not like in the countryside. In this elongated blown up pit called the ‘quarry’, not ‘canal’, much less ‘road’. The spring floods saw rafting on abandoned pallets. In the summer, there was clambering into empty sewer shafts. Until a stretch of road paved with asphalt appeared there. Then it all changed. Some moved away from Lasnamäe, some got too old for that. The smaller ones no longer played there because a major thoroughfare with intense traffic is even more dangerous than open drains, detonated pieces of rock and floodwaters. 

Now the canal is used by drivers and bus passengers. The latter climb down to the canal to wait for something. Or out of the canal because you just don’t stay in the canal unless you’re waiting for something. The former know exactly their exits and the bridges or petrol stations that precede them. Perhaps they notice that the advert on the bridge has been changed. Even if those commissioning the advert have remained the same. 

However, it is likely, that just like any other stretch of road, the Lasnamäe channel also has some value in inspiring a certain sense of home. Once I get to the canal, I know that I’ll be home soon. It is a tender and safe thought. When thinking of an elongated blown up pit.

A city road starts out as a line in a draft. If the line is doing well and is liked by some group of people who happen to be important at that moment, after a while, it will become a line on a map. If the line goes through a built environment or green area, then perhaps those travelling on the line will stop to look and admire the built environment and the green areas. However, if the line crosses through the ground and limestone several metres deep and its solely functional quality and raison d’etre is therefore more robust and obvious, then perhaps, in a strange way, this emotional link that people sometimes get with some stretches of road is more profound. 

Anyway, there is a generation of people who grew up in Lasnamäe, who would still like to stop their car and go and touch that limestone wall and try to climb it. I am one of them. 


Photos: Maarin Mürk


The Löwenruh Park seems to have two dimensions. The first is the general view, which is beautiful and harmonious. You walk around the circular pond, breathe in fresh air and think your own thoughts. You stop for a moment to look at the water moving in the wind or frozen in the winter and already ducks are swimming towards you, hoping for breadcrumbs. If you have more time, you would cross the limestone bridge, and step onto the peninsula in the middle of the circular pond. This is the core of the park, with criss-crossing paths stretching out in various directions like a maze. Strolling like this, gazing at the birds, the water and various trees, you may forget for a moment where you are, and who you are, for that matter. There is hardly much more one could ask of a park.

At the same time, this seemingly idyllic place has its faults. True, they are minor faults, but faults nevertheless. The Löwenruh Park has quite varied vegetation. In addition to the regular alders and maples there are old-growth trees: horse chestnuts, brittle willows, ash trees, red oaks, and spiraea margaritae. A thorough map and little notice boards have been set up to help you get to know them. However, these have become so faded that they are mostly unreadable, which can be very frustrating for someone looking for some educational value in the park – either for themselves or their children. Also, the initially impractical-looking solitary park benches stand out. Fine, you can sit on them without fear of falling down, even though a large construction reminiscent of a noticeboard has been added to the back. What is the purpose of this, one immediately asks. Perhaps this is a restoration of initial park benches? I never did manage to find out. This way, they remain a strange eyesore, stealing the limelight from the surrounding nature. A badly positioned sign, forbidding the feeding of birds, also stands out. The sign is in the corner of the park; however, only ten metres away, there is a small veranda with someone almost always standing there with half a loaf, feeding the birds. Wouldn’t it be wiser to relocate the sign to the veranda, so it would actually have an effect? As already said, these are microfaults, but nevertheless noticeable to the inquisitive park visitor. Despite this, the Löwenruh Park is a perfectly pleasant place to spend one’s free time, because the mere existence of a body of water makes the park landscape somehow special.  


Photo: Tõnu Laigu

BLACK HOUSES. The beginning of Paldiski maantee needs a bold intervention

In the city, you repeatedly go through the same routes that lead you to the office or home. One of these places is the beginning of Paldiski maantee (Paldiski Road), from Toompuiestee to the overpass at Tehnika Street. What is happening here partly fits the ironic description of the ideal city by Andy Warhol, which ‘would be one long Main Street with no cross streets or side streets to jam up traffic. Just one long oneway street. With one tall vertical building where everybody lived… And you'd fill your car up with gas and drive across the street’.11. Warhol, Andy 1977. The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again). Orlando: Harvest Books, p 156. Paldiski maantee is dominated by cars, there is only one pedestrian crossing on the 500-yard stretch of road, and the sidewalk lining the road is narrow. Two Soviet high-rise residential buildings at Paldiski maantee 16 and 20, built at the right time but in the wrong place, have a disrupting effect on the atmosphere of the entire street.

Despite the additional houses built here in the last five years, the street is still grey and dusty and the integral quality of urban space has improved only marginally. The goods of newer as well as older shops can only be viewed through the windows stained with city pollution. It seems that business owners have lost hope that washing the windows could improve the situation. The architects also cognitively sense a conflict in this urban space, having designed, as if in an agreement with each other, inconspicuous houses with mostly black and grey facades.  

The look of the street is characteristic of the Tallinn of ‘New Estonia’: buildings from different eras and with different functions alternate between unimproved empty plots. In addition to the two residential blocks mentioned above, we can also find a hotel, recently erected residential and office buildings, several limestone houses from the Czarist period, a few wooden houses on the corner of Ao Street, some imposing residential and office buildings from the bourgeois era, three or four unimproved plots full of random greenery and parked cars, and two bus stops. The side of the street that remains on the left of the flow of traffic – between the Meriton Hotel and the house at Paldiski maantee 24 – features residential houses or blocks of flats on the upper floors of higher buildings, usually facing the street with their narrow windowless ends and turning their longer sides with windows to face courtyard. This is obviously aimed at lessening traffic noise and catching the sun from the east and west. Unfortunately, these pragmatic ends of houses cut up the street space and give it a serrated look. The opposite side of the street is significantly more complete.

However, from the point of view of the city landscape, the beginning of Paldiski maantee still has potential: it is very picturesque to move towards Toompea Hill, because as the street is slightly arching and rises in relief, it gradually offers magnificent views to the Toompea castle, the Tall Hermann tower, the ‘onions’ of the Nevski Cathedral and the surrounding park. In the direction of Kassisaba, the beginnings of Kevade, Koidu, Eha, Ao and Loode Streets give a glimpse of a romantic slum. As an additional positive nuance, the ascending Suve Street in Kelmiküla has been linked to Tehnika Street again, which will in the future lead over the railway straight to the Telliskivi quarter. 

What is the magic wand that could tie this disjointed urban space together and make full use of the location’s potential? The width of Paldiski maantee allows for wider sidewalks and bike lanes, the sunny northern side of the street could be used for planting a row of trees, the car traffic could be calmed by traffic management. However, the near-ideal transformation of the street is possible only when a new purpose is given to the building at Paldiski maantee 16, or at least to the section facing the street, which steps over the reasonable building line, decreases width and narrows the field of vision. Was this building really placed on the street by the nomenklatura only to get a view to historic Toompea hill from the flats? A compromise that would leave everything as it is will not solve the situation. In case of complete demolition, the location of the building could be used to create a cityscape that takes into account the development logic of its surroundings, while partial demolition or enabling traffic through the street-level floor could yield a satisfactory result. Future construction should model itself on the urban construction practice that was formed before the war, with houses placed on the edge of the street, next to each other and blocked with firewalls, or with small gaps between buildings; with businesses on ground floors and apartments or offices on upper floors, as has been previously done in the section of the street near the overpass. Architectural solutions would be connected by a street area that has been rethought as a continuous urban space, turned into a pedestrian-centered public space with multiple uses, full of people, street businesses and cafés. 

It is high time to rethink the beginning of Paldiski maantee as an area and put it on a pedestal – it is in the city centre, yet has remained marginal, more like a forgotten part of a suburb. Entrepreneurs probably have little interest in Paldiski maantee as it is today and it is unlikely that the local community is willing to get involved in transforming the thoroughfare, as was the case with Soo Street. Therefore, we must rely on the city government to find the vision, will and stamina necessary for valuing this area more, including local people when making the changes, and in this way, make living in Tallinn more enjoyable.   

Festival UIT

Screening of Playtime by Jacques Tati in Veeriku hangars. Photo: Gabriela Liivamägi.
Veeriku hangars were gently wrapped in by UIT. Photo: Gabriela Liivamägi.
Multistab grafity in Veeriku hangars. Photo: Gabriela Liivamägi.

An urban festival has been given a short and fitting name, UIT (drifting), and the mind, searching for connections, immediately jumps to the flâneur, a term that was introduced to describe the experience of a great city (Baudelaire’s The Flowers of Evil). Whether overused or not,1 1. Kurg, Andres 2004. Flanööri mitu elu. Vikerkaar 4-5/2004, p 114.

2. Ibid., p 106.
 here it is a fitting concept to open the background of the festival. Whereas Benjamin has considered Baudelaire the perfect flâneur,2 then the latter’s cycle of poems Parisian Images could also contain the gist of it. Conversely, the cycle contains more of the poet than Paris itself, although there is also more. Perhaps it should be noted that by the time the first cycle was published (1857), Paris was changing rapidly under Haussmann: the Strasbourg boulevard had ushered in a new era,33. Jordan, David P. 1995. Transforming Paris: The Life and Labors of Baron Haussman. New York: The Free Press, p 114.

4. Baudelaire, Charles (translated by Roy Campbell) 1952. The Sun. Poems of Baudelaire. New York: Pantheon Books.

5. Benjamin’s user – flaneur – is still rather passive, more filtering the city through himself than adapting it. In other words, he is more a critical textual figure rather than a character who confronts reality, but his critical significance is mostly expressed in a radically different perspective for analysing the urban environment. Kurg, Andres 2002. Kasutajarevolutsioon. Maja 1/2002, p 15.
 as a fantastic, broad and hygienic phenomenon, lit by gas lights, rue de Rivoli made its way through the nooks of medieval Paris. When Baudelaire, the perfect flâneur, was 'stalking, in likely nooks, the odds of rhyme'4, he compiled rather melancholy mosaics of the pieces he picked up. Baudelaire’s wandering eye caught sight of an old lady, a beggar woman, a swan who had become lost in the city, and reflecting on what he saw and shaping metaphors out of it, he yearned for his disappearing Paris. Here, the essence of a flaneur becomes apparent: on the outside, he’s a passive observer, a drifter, who actively reflects on the existing.5 Since this is a personal, introspective process, the flâneur is a romantic loner in a big city. 

One of the characteristic traits of a wanderer is the fact that his or her stroll has no purpose, it is aimless. However, the wanderer as a flâneur is also a loner, and this is why the name UIT as the title of the festival is slightly paradoxical. What kind of a festival is aimless and what exactly is a scheduled or collective wandering?

But let us make a brief detour to dérive – one of the basic concepts of letterist-situationists. Explaining the background of the concept nearly a century after the publication of The Flowers of Evil, Guy Debord refers to the 1952 study by sociologist Chombart de Lauwe, which, after an analysis of the routes of students throughout a year, demonstrates how limited the Paris of a Parisian really is.6 6. Guy Debord. Theory of the Dérive, read from here.Thus, the dérive opposing these confines is a purposeful, political act, a conscious abandoning of slavish work and daily commitments, drifting off the beaten tracks to experience the other. According to Debord, the duration of dérive can last from a moment to several days without interruption, the weather (except constant rain) could even encourage it, the spatial scope could be confined to one train station or entail the entire city, it could be individual as well as collective.77. Ibid.

There are local analogies to expand on the historical background of the concept of dérive. Mari Laanemets has researched the games, walks, happenings of the artists and architects of the 1970s Tallinn, whose aims largely overlap with the rebellion of Parisians: situations evolving unexpectedly and independently were a protest against relegating a human being to a faceless cog in a machine, against the total rational organisation of her life.88. Laanemets, Mari 2005. Pilk sotsialistliku linna tühermaadele ja tagahoovidesse: häppeningid, mängud ja jalutuskäigud Tallinnas 1970. aastatel. Kunstiteaduslikke Uurimusi, p 144. 

Therefore, apart from a conscious opposition to the authorities, the ambitions of the organisers of UIT are largely equal to the aims of dérive: the wish to take participants to remote paths in order to enrich their sense of the city and see a different Tartu and to see Tartu differently. To achieve this aim, the programme of UIT features site-specific artworks, dance performances, sound and light installations, walks, cinema screenings and parties. The psycho-geographic impulse for the festival came in 2012 with the publication of the collection Mitte-Tartu (Non-Tartu), which was the basis of the festival’s first guided tour. To define the so-called other, it is fitting to repeat Sven Vabar’s foreword in Mitte-Tartu: 

'Non-Tartu’s non-places are more like places that have no meaning for the dominant culture around us. In many cases, it could be said that they are places of abjection, ideologically shunned, disparaged, outcast, suffering under the pressure of colonisation. However, any kind of definition of what constitutes a non-place is essentially colonial, because non-places are also places of non-acknowledgement that defy reasonable marking.'9 9. Vabar, Sven 2012. Mitte-Tartu. Tartu: TOPOFON, p 7.

10. Tallinn School – a group of artists and architects active in the 1970s and 1980s. See also Kurg, Andres; Laanemets, Mari 2008. Keskkonnad, projektid, kontseptsioonid. Tallinna kooli arhitektid 1972-1985. Tallinn: Eesti Arhitektuurimuuseum.

11. Kurg, Andres 2002. Kasutajarevolutsioon. Maja 1/2002.

12. Valk, Veronika 2014. Niisama Linnas, ERMis. Sirp, 24.04.2014, Available here.

An urban festival in a free Estonia is not an avant-garde rebellion in a wasteland, an insider’s happening that proclaims freedom of thought. The conflicts of space still exist, but they are not as hopeless as during the time of the Tallinn School10 – space has become democratic. In the changed socio-political environment, initiatives spring up and they are no longer characterised by the opposition between the mind and the authorities, and a newer vocabulary is needed to describe them. Thus, the festival could be considered a genuine manifestation of the user revolution11. The festival strongly resembles the people who make it happen: youthful, unselfconscious, searching; and the organisers wish to avoid rigid programmes to leave room for chances.12 With the festival, the organisers offer the city a chance, a tender push to swap a fleeting idea for an activity or a direct experience. And the community activism is wonderful, making the city look more like people, so that people would know the different faces of the city. The urban festival is not anchored in one spot – since its presence remains a brief fleeting phenomenon, its temporary bases can be set up in the premises of its most constant soulmates (like Aparaaditehas and the yard of Genialistide Klubi). The name and programme of UIT requires that new nooks and crannies are shed light on, the existing is thought of in new terms every year, which is where the strength and potential of the festival lie.


Case study
A terrible beauty. The eerie charm of the Stalinist urban space and the challenges of modernisation

The design and layout of the Town Hall Square of Otepää refers to prior plans of the town becoming a regional centre. The same blueprints were also used for the administrative buildings of Orissaare and Vastseliina. Photo: Oliver Orro

As is well known, the late 1940s and early 1950s were a difficult time for Estonian culture. The atmosphere of fear at the zenith of Stalinism, persecution and repressions, reporting people to the authorities and the concomitant distrust in communities, the forced ideologisation of all areas of life and the requirement of socialist realism as the only correct creative method – a great deal has been written on all this and naturally, this dark pressure also heavily influenced the world of architecture. At the same time, next to the turgid pompousness and fake scenery of the built environments of that time, there is also genuine grandness and dignity. The Stalinist residential areas still seem surprisingly inhabitable, paradoxically constituting one of the most ‘city-like’ architectural layers in our cities. In several places they have become rather popular residential areas with a strong sense of community over the past decade, which is reflected, among other things, in real estate prices. In addition to the design of houses and large-scale urban planning, a lot of attention was paid to the layout of the space between the houses during that period. Namely, the totalitarian age wanted to design the spatial environment totally as well, so the green belt, decorative elements, fencing, pavement and the structures of the street and courtyard had to form a whole, which, in addition to offering aesthetic enjoyment, had to express the social and artistic ideas of the era, symbolically conveying the arrival of the country and its people into an entirely new, Socialist period. Therefore, the spatial planning, including the planning of outdoor residential space, was a clearly political and rhetoric process at that time. It is unlikely that another period has seen the designing of outdoor residential space in Estonia in such a conscious, earnest and systematic manner as during that horrible, yet exciting era. In addition to restoring the buildings, the elements of the street and courtyard milieu are also in need for considered, sustainable and professional care, and generally this aspect needs to be given more attention to. 

One of the most common planning techniques in the comprehensively planned Stalinist residential plots was to align the houses along the street in a perimeter around the central courtyard. The built environment in Estonia was generally open; imposing metal fences on stone pillars were placed between houses as notional extensions of the facades facing the street, and here, the example of the Empire style of St Petersburg has clearly been followed. The spacious courtyard between the buildings that was formed in this way was designed as a common environment resembling a park, with playgrounds, swings, arbours, squares for drying laundry, and in some cases even fountains and sculptures. This type of spatial design, with great common courtyards, was in distinct opposition to the prewar private plots where each house was accompanied by a strictly defined garden, and the aim was to suggest a collective way of life befitting of the socialist society being created. In Estonia, this kind of a courtyard can be seen in its purest form at the buildings of the Dvigatel military factory on the Tartu Road (behind the so-called house with a tower),11. Kalm, Mart 2011. Eesti 20. sajandi arhitektuur. Tallinn: Prisma Prindi Kirjastus, p 269.

2. Kask, M., Lippus, K., Vihma, P. 2011. Uue Maailma lood. Tallinn: Uue Maailma Selts, pp 89–94.

3. For more in depth information about this area see: Välja, Leele and Tallinna Kultuuriväärtuste Amet 2012. Stalinistlik maja. Kortermajatüübid ja säästev uuendamine. Tallinna Kultuuriväärtuste Amet, pp 13–14.
 but also in the Pelguranna and Uus Maailm2 districts, as well in several cities in Ida-Viru County.

In most places, a large portion of the planned attractions were never built in the courtyards, and the green areas were also executed only partly. In these blocks, often built on old areas that were damaged in the war, the buildings themselves also do not have the perfect layout and rhythm; in the post-war shortage of shelter, among the new residential buildings dripping of neoclassical style, some earlier wooden or stone houses that are in better shape and survived the war still stand and slightly unsettle the Stalinist fake paradise. In that sense, the residential areas planned on plots that were previously without buildings are more flawless. In some parts, not all buildings have been lined next to the street; some have been set back slightly, so that classical antecourts are formed in front of them. In Tallinn, this technique has been used in Vana-Lasnamäe3, but also in several places in Ida-Viru County.

Today, these block-focused common areas have become extremely problematic. The plots formed for separate houses in the wake of privatisation were cut up rather irresponsibly; in some cases, the entire inner part of the block is divided into pieces between the surrounding houses, and in others, it has become an un-privatised no man’s land. The danger lies in the enclosure that completely ignores the entire space and the architectural concept (especially in places where some buildings are a bit more administratively capable and have already managed to restore their facades and completed other maintenance works, and now wish to visually separate themselves from the surroundings that have ‘fallen behind’ and are dirty), but even more frequently in creating parking places on former lawns, often chaotically and without any sense of symmetry or proportions. In the early part of the Soviet period, there were very few private cars, which means that there were almost no designs for organising parking in these blocks. Naturally, the most common problem is still deterioration, becoming overgrown or conversely, deliberately destroying greenery without much thought being put into it. The former central plan, strictly symmetrical and separated by hedges, borrowed from the classicist park architecture in a simplified form, is still visible in many places, becoming especially distinct in the winter. Often the barriers along the street are also in a very poor state; sometimes matters have been made worse by incompetent repairs. The original gates have been removed almost everywhere, because they hindered the cars driving into the courtyard. Sometimes, the destruction was started already in the 1970s and 1980s, building the former common courtyard full of garage boxes or workshops, which have been privatised separately by now and impossible to get rid of. 

Other kinds of layouts of houses were also known, and one of the most interesting of the so-called alternative plans is the Laevastiku Street quarter in Tallinn. Here, too, the idea is about a central common space, but the buildings erected for the Shipping Trade Organisation are located in an even row along the street and around a spacious empty square, so that the area intended for joint activities is located in front of the buildings, not behind them. The central square was intended for playgrounds, sports facilities and recreational areas, but it was never fully built and still has not taken on a recognisable character.44. Actually, some public buildings planned at the square were also never built: see the plan in Stalinistlik maja, p 8.

In addition to the classical square perimeter blocks, the most common planning technique was to design the street as an axis alley, lined by residential buildings with a larger or smaller setback and, depending on the character of the community, varying in height from two to five floors. The street wall may be rhythmed, i.e. some smaller buildings may vary with taller ones or some would be facing the street with their end, others with their long side. The end of the alley usually had to have a special kind of accent – a monument, a public building, a viewing platform. However, these often never materialised, so the spectacularly designed views end in ‘nowhere’. In several communities, the alley ends with a water tower. The alley could have several lanes, so that a wider green belt formed in the middle. This is the case with the central alley in Kohtla-Järve, Pushkin Street in Narva, Lõime Street in Tallinn’s Pelguranna district and, as one of the most spectacular examples, Rävala (formerly Lenin) Alley.

The most commonly used trees were poplars, which, with their rapid growth, were intended to help create the illusion of meteoric progress, however, poplars are not linked to Stalinism alone – they were already loved in manor parks and in urban green areas during the imperial times and the first period of independence. At the same time, many other kinds of trees were planted on streets during the Stalinist period; for example, the birch alleys in several cities of Ida-Viru County are quite striking, the whitebeam alley on Kotzebue Street in Tallinn, designed by the famous landscape architect Aleksander Niine, but the traditional maples, chestnuts and lindens were also used, as well as mixed planting and even exotic imports. The central alley of Kohtla-Järve was thoroughly renovated few years ago, but despite the best intentions, the result is perhaps a little peculiar; all the fountains, imposing lanterns and specially designed street furniture indicate an approach in the spirit of Viollet-le-Duc, where renovating a site meant taking it to an idealised form it has never actually reached. However, a great effort in an otherwise backward and grimy city still deserves some praise. 

Sometimes there were no barriers between the buildings and the street, even when the setback was large; at the very most, hedges were used, in other parts, latticed wooden fences, surprising for that era, which were more likely to give an impression of a bourgeois idyll than a radical socialist city. This can be seen in the cities of Ida-Viru County as well as in Asula Street in Tallinn, admittedly mostly in old photographs by now.5. Välja 2012: p 12.

6. Priimägi, Linnar. Socialist realism and Soviet Biedermeier. Presentation on 18.10.2002 at the Tartu Art Museum, notes in the possession of the author. For a summary of the conference presentation by L. Priimägi, see the collection: Sotsialistliku realismi võidukäik? Eestis. Tartu Kunstimuuseum 2003. Priimägi also uses the term ‘Socialist Biedermeier’.

7. Here, the Stalinist garden city means a collection of small houses constructed after a common standard project and a recognisable layout characteristic of the era, with each building housing 2–4 flats on average. At the same time, common individual homes were built all over Estonia after the war, but they were more likely an extension of the prewar building tradition and their exteriors bear no signs of Stalinism at first glance. See Aavik, Mariette ja Tallinna Kultuuriväärtuste Amet 2014. Sõjajärgne individuaalmaja. Hoonetüübi areng ja säästev uuendamine. Tallinna Kultuuriväärtuste Amet.

8. Ahtme, Kukruse and other smaller industrial areas were planned as parts of the Kohtla-Järve conurbation. The general plans were made by Russian architects in Union-wide offices in Leningrad. See Raam, Villem (editor) 1997. Eesti Arhitektuur III. Tallinn, Valgus, pp 172–173
.That kind of application of space represents the layer in the history of socialist realism that Linnar Priimägi called Socialist Biedermeier6 in painting and which is also expressed in architecture. It is a world which tries to be safe and perhaps to appear nostalgic and timeless, in any case, it should not be interpreted as naively apolitical. 

One of the less known layers is also the Stalinist garden city, which in Estonia can be found in its purest form only in Ida-Viru County. Namely, next to large apartment buildings, smaller 2–4 storey houses were built; often, a large number of small residential houses built after the same standard project were placed next to each other, to make these uniform rows of similar buildings instantly distinguishable from the prewar private house areas, where every house had a different look according to their owners.7 There are districts with plenty of green areas and often picturesquely arching streets in Vana-Ahtme, Kukruse, Kohtla-Järve, Jõhvi and other towns8, however, these environments with great potential are often sadly in a bad state.  

The most imposing city of that era in Estonia is naturally Sillamäe, where the buildings and alleys, benches, urn-like flowerpots and trash bins, symmetrical flower beds and neo-baroque balustrades with the design of streetlights and other things form an impressive whole. What is strange is the fact that the link to the sea, already weakened by the layout of the city, is almost totally lacking in reality in the Stalinist district of Sillamäe. The powerful street axis that begins at the famous great stairs admittedly takes you to the sea, but the beach was in dire straits until recently and full of random buildings, and there has never really been anything significantly better here. We have no seaside promenades in Estonia from that period, even though the genre was known during that era in the Black Sea resorts. However, perhaps the most charming decorative element is the honours board of progressive workers, which is not a board on a wall, but a separate stone construction. Other cities also had them, for example, one used to stand on the edge of the Tammsaare Park in Tallinn, but all have since perished.9 9. The archives have several projects for honours boards from that period, see for example ERA.f.R-1992- n.2–s.83.

10. Orro, Oliver 2011. Vana hea linnamajapidamine. Kommunaalmajanduse mälestusmärkidest Tallinnas ja mujalgi. Muinsuskaitse Aastaraamat 2010. Tallinn, Muinsuskaitseamet, pp 76–81.

The beautifully designed streetlight posts are important actors in the street milieu in other cities, including in several parts of Tallinn.10 When these are replaced with standard ‘europosts’, as has been the case in several places, the city space loses some of its genuine historic touch and uniqueness forever. 

Like all totalitarian regimes, Stalinist planning also loved the square as a part of the city space; our otherwise rather squareless cities immediately gained new imposing places. This was made possible by the post-war situation; many new squares were built on destroyed blocks. There are even more squares that remained on paper alone, reflected in the first general plans of the Soviet period. Some squares were also left unfinished and were completed in the modernist era, which is why the initially intended composition has not survived. The best known case is the absurdly large central square designed for Pärnu.1111. Kalm, Mart 2002. Eesti 20. sajandi arhitektuur. Tallinn: Sild, lk 261.  Naturally, ceremonial buildings were designed to line the square, and in many cases, the most important one among these was the community centre. After all, the authorities had to demonstrate how the Soviet power was looking after the cultural needs of the workers. Several standard projects were made for the construction of community centres. In other parts, the central building of a square is some kind of an administrative building, usually the region, city or oblast committee of the party – after all, the square as a type of public space is already historically linked to the manifestation of power. Back then, curiosities like these various kinds of party and executive committees abounded also due to the administrative reform, which abolished counties and divided Estonia into three oblasts, which in turn were divided into small rural regions. Magnificent regional centres were built everywhere, Keila, Orissaare and Vastseliina managed to construct them more extensively, in the case of the two latter, the standard design was also similar.1212. Hansar, Lilian 2013. Stalinistlik linnaehitus. Eesti kunsti ajalugu 6/1. Tallinn: Eesti Kunstiakadeemia. On regional communities see pp 228–230. This administrative division did not last, but quite a few strange squares had already been constructed in smaller towns by then.

A typical technique saw the most important building, usually connected to governance but sometimes also education or culture, placed above the level of the square, as if to lift it out of the mundane environment and raise it up on a pedestal. Almost always, a larger sculpture was also planned for the square, often the fatherly V. I. Lenin; naturally, these have been removed by now, but sometimes the monuments were never erected. Thus, in many squares from that era, you get the feeling that the spacious place is missing something. The sculpture could be replaced by a central fountain, but these also were often not realised in reality; for example, a fountain was planned in front of the Sõprus cinema in Tallinn from the beginning, but it was built only in early 21st century, already in a modern key. Redesigning the squares began already in the 1960s and 1970s, when the classical axis designs were considered outdated and ugly. In the 1990s and 2000s, some of these squares and their surrounding volumes were restored quite well, some have been neglected, the latter usually in locations where the entire town is on the verge of dying out. A startling case is Jõhvi, where alterations have turned the former central square in front of an administrative building into a kind of strange two-storey parking lot. 

Stalinist parks are a separate phenomenon entirely. These cannot be covered at length here, let us just note that in the late 1940s and early 1950s a large number of all kinds of green areas were built in cities to mend war wounds and eliminate ruins when there was no time to construct new buildings. In most cases, these parks had a distinct regular layout, most of the techniques of baroque and classicist landscape architecture were used. More glorious Stalinist parks can be seen in Russia, where they were often called ‘cultural and holiday parks’; ours are rather modest compared to the grandiosity found over there. The Stalinist layout with two intersecting diagonals is still visible in the Tammsaare Park in Tallinn, where it is admittedly disrupted by the alterations made in the 1970s,13 13. Sander, Heldur; Abner, Olev. Tallinna väärikaimad pargid – Tallinna loodus. Tallinna Keskkonnaamet/MT. Loodusajakiri, 2010, 48. The park with the regular plan was created in 1947-48, and it brought the author of the plan, Harald Heinsaar, the Prize of Soviet Estonia. The sculpture of A.H. Tammsaare was installed only on the writer’s 100th birthday in 1978, and the colloquial name Tammsaare Park caught on. From 1955 to 1989, it bore the official title the Park of 16th October.but also in the strictly axisymmetric network of paths of the Politseipark or Police Park (the former so-called Pioneers’ Park), currently undergoing renovations, and the Koidu Park in the Uus Maailm area, where it has become less visible and legible with each reconstruction.


What lies between buildings

In one issue of U published more than a year ago,11. Estonian Urbanists' Review U15. Urban Idea special. Available here. I discussed topics related to space, especially from the perspective of the individual, with Kadri Koppel in the article entitled A dialogue about space. Within the framework of the project Spatial Concept, commissioned by the Estonian Co-operation Assembly, we were mostly interested in people’s personal relationship with space and how it takes shape. Just like at the psychologist’s office you start with dissecting your relationship with your mother/father, when discussing spatial relations, one must also start at the beginning in order to understand why the space surrounding us is the way it is. Only then can the healing process begin. 

This piece focuses on the next stage of the process. I will look at the creation of public space and the related improvement processes, using the world as an example. The issue here is no longer what we can do individually, but the role of the decision-makers: those who commission (local government, the state, private companies) and those who create (architects, landscape architects, designers and artists). How do they see and carry out the processes of designing space? How much do they follow the lead of the rest of the world? As a summary of the project Spatial Concept and conclusions from the most recent Landscape Architecture biennale, I composed seven points that have guided spatial design in recent years and are likely to do so in the future. These points could also be called trends, although a more accurate term would be inevitability, which has been brought on by the social changes of the last decade and the changes led by the (social)media. Here in Estonia, we have it better in some points and worse in others, but as long as we have no internationally renowned spatial object in the field of landscape architecture, there is no point in deceiving ourselves that all is well in that area.   

There is a lot of space and unspoilt nature in Estonia, but this should not be taken for granted. In a situation where most cities are suffering due to lack of space and are struggling for every piece of greenery and one has to drive thousands of kilometres to see untouched nature, we must be more than grateful for our resources. This makes endless empty plots paved with asphalt and muddy parking lots, grimy and non-functioning city parks and a lack of greenery on the streets (except for some trees and clumps of flowers) seem all the more of a waste. We may want to be a new Nordic country, but a sombre and grey asphalt desert teeming with cool cars shouts ‘Eastern Europe!’ more than anything else. So let’s not waste our resources, instead, let’s try to increase them over time like cunning salesmen. The following seven points should serve as a guide. 

1. Collaboration. A fashionable word that is unlikely to disappear any time soon. On the other hand, collaboration has become a cliché, part of the ‘bullshit bingo’, because real collaboration is difficult to verify and eventually, difficult to define. Yet, when analysing how our recent well-known architectural sites came into being, it is obvious that it is impossible to plan a new public facility without collaboration. It is assumed that when you use public money to build something, the public wants to know that whatever is being built is necessary. The days when the public had to gratefully accept a new park or bench without asking any questions are long gone. The current situation is more or less as follows: when the project has no resources or desire to get the local citizens involved, they will eventually get involved themselves. Unfortunately, by then they usually have a negative view of the project. All the following examples of landscape architecture are based on collaboration. 

2. Mosaic. A public green area has long been more than just a little park or green patch with a certain shape and size. Green areas are parts of an area or district, forming, like a mosaic, the central park of the area. Therefore, not only just one park in the middle of the district is important – it is equally important to pay attention to the sidewalks, front lawns, tiny green areas on street corners and temporarily vacant areas. Therefore, the resources allocated for one area should not be spent on one central park alone, they should be divided among various sites in the area that all could do with a little greener and cooler appearance and new functions for the neighbourhood. This way, a so-called public space strategy is born for the entire region. A good example is the Dalston area project in London which collaborated with residents actively and divided the money, initially earmarked for one park, among several irritating empty local spaces. This way, some streets were given new green areas, street corners and other empty plots were filled with art and various installations. The project went beyond what lies on the ground and turned its gaze to missing signs and signposts that also greatly influence how we experience space. The aim was to find what was of value locally and to add what was missing. A simple project based on solid preliminary work and strategy, and in this case, a parallel could be drawn with our own Lasnaidea

3. Pathways. Both humans and urban nature should be guaranteed a chance to move smoothly within the city. Creating opportunities for nature is the most important here: taking urban flora, but especially urban fauna into consideration and enabling corresponding routes and habitats. This should most of all mean creating green corridors that would allow both people as well as animals to move without interruption out of the city into nature, and if necessary, back into the city without having to risk their lives crossing great highways or other large obstacles. Preserving the richness of life in the city is no less important than preserving the richness of life in the wild. Our parks are not just home to plants, but also insects, birds and small animals. The easiest way to support the richness of life is to replace large lawns with high maintenance costs with urban meadows, which, in addition to being pretty to look at, would also provide a home for insects, and even birds and animals. Unfortunately, it often happens that the maintenance team is asked to remove a meadow created in a posh business area, because the tenants think an unmowed lawn looks untidy. Instead of giving explanations, lawnmowers are still worshipped, all the while patriotically speaking about the beauty of Estonian nature. Without realising they have just done a great disservice to that nature.22. Jaan Kaplinski expressed recently concern over the same issue in Sirp. Read it (in Estonian) from here. I also recommend the series Naturopolis, recently shown on ETV. 

Continuing with the subject of pathways, it is obviously important to preserve the pathways not just for the urban fauna, but also for the city residents. Tallinn virtually lacks any green corridors or green pathways that would allow the city-dwellers to move uninterrupted between the various districts and green areas of the city by bike or by foot. In Helsinki, the central park is a good example, with little green rays emanating from it and spreading across the city, so that the city residents can cover long distances by foot, bike or skiing right through the city centre. 

The idea behind a green corridor or green pathway is that the pedestrians or cyclists have priority there and it allows you to move from A to B or make a nice training run without having to risk your life by weaving between cars. In his article published in Eesti Päevaleht, Tauri Tuvikene highlights the idea that instead of creating waves of green streetlights for cars, we should put emphasis on creating green waves for pedestrians.3 3. Read the article here (in Estonian). This way, I also use the word ‘green pathway’, which does not necessarily mean a green environment but above all smooth movement. In Estonia, there is a mysterious tendency to combine cycling lanes with major roads, as if pedalling on a boring straight stretch of road, surrounded by car exhaust fumes, is anyone’s idea of fun. These lanes are a good start, but they should be better linked to smaller streets, parks and forest paths, so that every resident can choose their favourite training route. I don’t know how athletic our city government is, but on the national level, the avid runners (for example, Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas and MPs Jürgen Ligi and Jüri Ratas) should support the idea with their own interests at heart. 

4. Heritage. Regarding this subject, I do not mean simply the Muhu island's needlework patterns, but all elements that help to amplify local identities and values as a part of space and also allow to bind them together, providing them with a common ground. In their work, landscape architects always look for inspiration from some local element – it could be an old pattern, material, a graffiti on the wall, even the garbage on the ground. It is easy to find it in areas with a rich history. In newer areas, the subject should be approached through the identity and interests of the local residents. It is important to keep in mind the selected element’s power as a dialogue tool. It goes beyond telling the story of the place to visitors and is able to start a dialogue and give new meanings and new spatial icons to the place. I will give two examples. First, the Harjumägi (Harju Hill) in Tallinn, also known as Plaadimägi (Record Hill). Plaadimägi means something special for an entire generation. It was not just the location for selling and exchanging vinyl records with Western music; it was also a symbol of rebellion, freedom, the Singing Revolution, the local punk movement, etc. The place is pregnant with meanings that could be highlighted with landscape architecture; they could be given a prominent and visible place for newer generations and a fascinating appeal for tourists. Instead, the contracting authority chose the conservative ‘benches and fountain’ option, which is sadly mundane and in no way helps to create a sense of space. 

Another, more successful example is the superproject Superkilen in Copenhagen, which opted for an even more extreme landscape solution. The park was intended to be the centre of a multicultural and slightly troublesome city district, and it was decided that the only element of the park that would come from Denmark would be the design itself. It is a symbolically powerful decision and the argument in favour of the option was that the residents of more than a hundred different nationalities have to live in Denmark every day anyway. All the more reason why the district’s central park should symbolise something else for them: a place with elements from their home countries. A place that seems to be in Denmark, yet seems to have nothing to do with Denmark. It is a park that celebrates the heritage of each of these nationalities in a modern key and binds all these different stories into a whole via landscape design, which is the only and very remarkable Danish element in the project. 

5. Media. Every new architectural site is very clearly also a media object. It would be naive to think that the internet or social media is another world that has no bearing on physical objects. The prominence of new architectural sites largely depends on how they are presented in the photos on Instagram or Twitter. It is no longer second-rate background noise, instead it’s the main factor based on which the new generation will decide whether or not they will visit; whether or not it is trendy. Therefore, it is necessary to think about the photographic appeal of the site on social media, and even better, to create a special website and all kinds of social media accounts that would help to generate an image and give additional value to the site. On the one hand, the site is easier to find for foreign journalists, tourists and non-locals this way. On the other hand, it provides a better way to introduce the site, its history and various functions. There are all kinds of State Forest Management Centres, mushroom, tracking, bird and other mobile applications in the forest, not to mention the educational trails, but cities often have nothing to match when it comes to amplifying an experience of a place. Yet one would love to learn more about the urban environment, not just the forest. A good example of promoting a place is Superkilen from Denmark again.4 4. Read more about the backgrounds of Superkilen's design elements from here, and see the video from here.   

6. Investment. Here I mean the investment measured in money and its rate of return, using one architectural site as an example. There has been talk about star buildings that attract tourists en masse for a long time. Less has been said about the fact that landscape architecture sites, i.e. squares and parks, can sharply increase the income and number of visitors to a city. In Estonia, it is customary to construct the buildings, and if there is some money left, plant some bushes between the houses. The reverse way of thinking, where a new park could be the catalyst for development of the entire region, is much rarer. A good living environment is what attracts people and events. The location is taken into active use and later it becomes easier to sell real estate there. The most powerful example of that is The High Line in New York, which opened its third stage of development in autumn 2014, and which cost a total of 150 million dollars but has already made more than a billion dollars in profit, firmly leading the real estate development of the surrounding western side of Manhattan. Tourism is also important, since both the High Line as well as Superkilen in Copenhagen have reached the top 10 of popular tourist attractions in their respective cities. A park that achieved such an extent of success is something that would have been considered out of this world a mere ten years ago. So, a hint for those wishing to improve Estonia’s reputation: good landscape design and good design overall are not just the key to improving life locally, they also shape images in general. 

7. Profit. Money has already been mentioned. The issue is the benefit that the public space can bring to the society in general. Here, I do not mean birdsong and sunshine alone. Public space is the glue of society and its (landscape) architectural design must aspire to more than just creating beauty. Contemporary landscape architects are like urban orderlies who heal the wounds left by industry, try to integrate different ethnic groups into the society and solve integration problems, mediate the wishes of the local residents and fight for the preservation of local functions in spite of developers. The aim cannot be just a place for holding parades or planting 100 trees or adding 10 new benches. Green areas should not solve only environmental problems, instead, they can transform the image of a district, increase the residents’ knowledge of the area and each other or develop creativity in children, inspiring people to exercise more or maybe even drink less. It is about time that the space between buildings is seen as an unused opportunity and a wonderful tool for solving various problems. 


Who is an urbanist?
On the possibility of a working urbanist in Estonia

Urban and Landscape Days XI, 2014. Photo: Jaak Sova

It can be said in general that the study programmes known as urban studies in the Anglo-American language sphere (almost every larger university has one and they are usually characterised by the same goals) combine planning, urban studies, design, anthropology, sociology, administration, cultural studies and much more. Naturally, the study programmes dedicated to space vary according to university and sometimes even according to departments within the university.11. In Denmark, the landscape plays an important role in engaging space; for example, the students of urban studies at the University of Copenhagen are closely linked by urban landscaping, spatial expression and design, which is a trait characteristic of a school of thought (Interview with Kaie Kuldkepp). In the course of the restructuring of the Aalto University in Finland, the field of urban studies was split in two - the School of Arts has architecture, urban planning and urban design, while the School of Engineering has managing spatial change, regional planning, transport planning, real estate planning and other specialties. These two ‘schools of thought’ function totally separately for the student, even though in practice, they should be closely linked (Interview with Kristi Grišakov).

2. Often the (local) urban studies MA programme can be identified by interdisciplinarity. Or, as the Head of Urban Studies Professor Maroš Krivy has said “indisciplinarity – that it’s not clear what it is, that it mixes people from different backgrounds, or even makes you mix your own background”. Krivy, M. 2013. Urban studies of the periphery: nine years of urban studies in the Estonian Academy of Arts. Estonian Urbanist’s Review U14, Peripheries. Article available from here.
 At the Estonian Academy of Arts, for instance, the students are taught to be critical strategist-curators, who know how to interrogate and direct spatial processes, while also providing them with the sufficient theoretical ammunition to understand their surroundings and technical skills to form their ideas.

Interdisciplinarity is both an advantage and disadvantage. For people who have gone through the interdisciplinary training of urban studies, there are either too many outlets (find a place, specialise) or too few (for example, only private companies and offices specialising in urban studies). There is nothing new about students or graduates attempting to define themselves and this is generally characteristic of contemporary higher education, however, in the relatively new field of urban studies, the issue of constant self-definition is particularly relevant. Between constituting a link that connects various fields and the real need to find a place in the job market, a situation has evolved where this self-defining takes an ambitious form, which is healthy, because retraining and rotating in positions is becoming a new normality, when looking towards the future. 


The graduates of the MA programme of urban studies of the Estonian Academy of Arts do not have clear outputs in the local open interdisciplinary (or indisciplinary)2 field of urban studies. Urban studies is a relatively new speciality (11 years of teaching) and it is indeed a short time for the evolution of a respective job market. Having obtained an interdisciplinary degree, the urbanist is prepared to grasp the city in its complex entirety, seeing spatial and social factors and noticing the needs of various interest groups. Therefore, he or she could ideally continue to stand in a position between or above different fields, where the urbanist could be the glue or bridge between various expert cultures. The precise nature of this linking function is the key for the urbanist's search for a (work)place. 

For example, in the case of a major development, would the urbanist be a project manager, who brings the interests of the planners, architects and citizens together, thereby supporting a cohesive final result, so that the project does not remain the success of one field alone? Or should the urbanist find a place in the public sector as a certain kind of critical supervisor? According to the allocations of state-commissioned education, about five qualified urbanists should enter the job market each year. Therefore, the study programme should work more closely with the private sector and find ways of utilising employees with urban studies profiles in a company: for example, what could an urbanist do in real estate development companies or how could they be an equal partner for architects, who studied with them, in the offices of architectural practices? Naturally, it is another issue entirely how the entrepreneur and the urbanist are supposed to find each other, and whether the additional value created by the urbanist is great enough to justify the creation of a new position in the company.

Contacts between companies and urbanists should start already during studies. There are plenty of examples abroad of how this practice functions well. For example, one of the greatest advantages of the urban studies programme of the University of Weimar is their semester-long traineeship, after which, during the third semester, the students must integrate their practical experience into a wider context in their research and turn it into a presentation at the International Model Projects conference, held at the end of the semester. The participants of the conference held in February 2014 included world famous architecture bureaus like OMA, Gehl Architects, Projects for Public Spaces, Pratt Community Centre, Space Syntax and others.3 3. Interview with Silja Loik (26.09.2013).At the College of Built Environment of the University of Washington in Seattle, a special Professionals Council convenes every month, presenting their everyday work to students and volunteering as mentors for the students.44. Interview with Kaie Kuldkepp (24.09.2013).

In Estonian schools of higher education, traineeships have often not been thought through: it is usual to spend 3–6 months in foreign universities during the year taken off from academic studies (traineeship opportunities through ERASMUS and the Leonardo Da Vinci and the Kristjan Jaak scholarship offered by the Archimedes Foundation make additional studies available for nearly everyone who is interested), but local companies, the public sector and universities have not yet realised this co-operation opportunity. However, Estonian universities have actively engaged third sector organisations or freelancers when it comes to urban studies, organising joint courses and workshops with them. Specifically, many graduates of the urban studies programme work in the field of innovation, rethinking the ways the society works, how large organisations and institutions, e.g. the government, provide public services, or how to include smaller communities in the decision-making processes of larger organisations. There are not too many organisations like this. For example, the Estonian Urban Lab, founded in 2006, has been a springboard for several advisers and consultants who have made their way even to the government. There are also younger actors – the non-profit organisation Väike Vasak Käsi, SPIN Unit – and one can hope there will be more. 

The issue of universities and employment is, of course, complicated and should be looked at with a critical mind – the line where co-operation between the university and the market becomes unreasonable lies somewhere in the area where there is training for people no one needs in five or ten years, or where the trained people are not free in their career choices, and are instead dependant on the specific choices dictated by the market and the authorities. No urban studies MA programme can aim solely to train physical planners or city administrators according to orders. However, students should have an overview of their choices and the employers should be acquainted with the specialty. 


However, it is increasingly common for Estonian urbanists to be active both here as well as abroad - take part in the activities of the Urban Lab in Estonia and do a PhD in the United Kingdom or the United States, or to devote themselves to the study of the feasibility of Talsinki of Hellinn, while being one of the citizens of the twin cities. This order of life and work is made possible by the choice to go freelance and to work from one project to another. This is also often the only way for the urbanist to work in their field. The strategic goals of organisations dealing with urban space usually also feature an international dimension and cross-border co-operation – both to find a wider audience for their activities and goals as well as to share knowledge and experience. The co-operation network of urbanists in the Baltic States is only just taking shape, but is becoming increasingly manifest. The co-operation of Estonian and Finnish urbanists in shared issues is also essential. In Estonia, this network has been developed by the Urban Lab and the exchange of ideas is also promoted by various conferences and the people who organise them (the urban and landscape days). The key to constant and substantial co-operation is finding a focus that is characteristic of the region; the Talsinki-Hellinn issue and the emerging analysis of post-socialist society are good examples. 

A permanent network of urbanists connecting the spatial experts of the Baltic States, Finland and perhaps Saint Petersburg could begin specifically with co-operation between universities. For example, one line of action so far unused by Estonian spatial studies programmes is the potential for organised or even compulsory additional training and exchange and a consistent network of foreign and guest teachers. The study programme of the Estonian Academy of Arts should develop specific exchange programmes with partner universities that also have urban studies on their curricula, supporting the movement and exchange of students in the field of urban studies. It is especially sad that from autumn 2014, the Estonian Academy of Arts is no longer the partner of the one-year MA programme POLIS European Urban Cultures, because POLIS exchanges have led to co-operation projects that have resulted in several graduates of the POLIS programme committing themselves to Estonia. The exchange of students would also help to mediate the context-based knowledge of local urbanists that could be of interest to foreign universities. Interesting developments in the field of urban studies can also be expected from the recently opened Institute of Architecture and Urban Studies at the Tallinn University of Technology. 


The urban studies programme of the Estonian Academy of Arts has no PhD programme (however, there will be PhD studies in architecture and urban studies at the Tallinn University of Technology) and therefore still the precondition for the emergence of future professors is their connections to international academic work. This will certainly require more than 11 years and a tad more than around 30 graduates out of the ca 70 who began studies, and which is still just the beginning of achieving the necessary mass. However, every university must see future professors in their students. The professor in charge of the urban studies department at the Estonian Academy of Arts should be supported by a researcher who is well acquainted with the local context, especially in a situation where the universities must soon cleverly integrate their curricula due to the fall in student numbers. Co-ordinating the co-operation of various specialties is often an additional responsibility for the director and this and many other issues related to the context of Estonian universities could be handled by the research unit attached to the architecture department. The output of the research unit would also be to offer lectures in other universities. Urban issues are important also in the fields of sociology and law and specialisation could grow out of the field itself – the urban semiotics line at the department of semiotics of the University of Tartu is a good example. The research unit, active in the urban studies programme, would constitute a platform for taking part in the activities of the Estonian Academy of Art by working with the department of art education or the research and development department. This way, perhaps more initiatives like the Urban Lab and Spatial Intelligence Unit would be born, acting in an institutional context and providing a clear professional outlet for every graduate of the urban studies MA programme. 


The choice of a profession, even at MA level, should not define one’s life and career. Nevertheless, we would like to emphasise that it would be a great loss to the society if the potential that comes from knowledge collected by urban specialists with a wide grasp would simply vanish or scatter. For urban studies to evolve and become a serious discipline, it is necessary to gather and cherish the collected competence, to prevent the disappearance of knowledge even after the leaders of the study programme, graduates of the programme who have gone abroad and others have been replaced. Naturally, the university plays an important role here, but the creation of a supporting structure, perhaps even a union of some kind, is up to the urbanists themselves. 

Who needs urban governance?

Kalarand. Photo: Andra Aaloe

At the moment, when Riigikogu has ratified the Planning Act, the issue of spatial planning is also getting more relevant and widely covered. Professional associations have presented several opinions to the Riigikogu and over the course of last summer there were weekly radio discussions on the city and urban space.11. Listen to the radioseries about city and urban space here (in Estonian).

2. Listen to the radio programme from here (in Estonian).
 In the radio programme Reporteritund2 on 12th of January last year, Arp Müller raised the issue of the amendments, saying that it has clearly received insufficient coverage, yet it affects us all more than, for example, the issue of the corporate income tax. Therefore, it seems a fitting moment to reflect on the role of various specialists in shaping the environment around us. 

Looking at the Estonian planning system, the survey carried out in 2010 by the project The Development of Estonian Planning Curricula (EPA) revealed that nearly half of the employees involved in planning have studied architecture, landscape architecture or land readjustment and surveying. Since the goal of spatial planning is the long-term and functional organisation of a sustainable development of space, everything seems to be fine. The work is done by specialists who have the necessary technical and substantive knowledge and skills, and an overview of the process and its role on state, municipal and local level. However, the competition between people with different educations in spatial design is quite fierce. As Regina Viljasaar highlights in her article On Spatial Education in Estonian Universities (Maja 4/2014), the teaching of spatial subjects is fragmented and a general multitude reigns: spatial education is offered in six universities and on five different levels of study. Of course every specialty has, at least theoretically, their own nuances and specialisation, but I would roughly divide them in two: design-related (landscape architecture, urban studies and urban governance) and technical (land and landscape readjustment, architecture). However, can the state and the people as clients, and ourselves as specialists, tell the difference between these different roles and implement them? And where does the urban governance stand in all this?   

The website of Tallinn University informs us that urban governance helps us to understand how space functions and through that, how to find solutions for environmental and social problems by using modern approaches and extensive practical studies.3. Read more about the urban governance studies from here.The specialty combines social, cultural and natural sciences and deals with very different aspects of life, such as urban planning, culture, sociology or urban traffic. When, after a short break in studies, I heard on the radio about the specialty I have been looking for without knowing it myself, I did not hesitate, and once again started schooling. Urban governance seemed just right: not too technical and strict and not too design-oriented and artsy, but instead aimed at improving the urban environment that surrounds us every day. The specialty is taught under the aegis of the Institute of Humanities, which indicated a heavy social focus and made this programme stand out among other planning-related study programmes that are offered by Estonian universities. At the international level, too, urban governance and planning are more closely linked to architecture and engineering and sciences. However, having previously studied environmental protection, I missed understanding how the changes taking place in the environment, both natural as well as built, affect our daily quality of life and how we could influence the outcome ourselves. 

When hearing the novel name of my field of studies, people often ask me what will happen to me, what is my possible career, and even I answer with a shrug. There is no use in looking for urban governance in job ads, because we do not have a separate position for that purpose. The most likely option is working in a municipal government – this is also the answer often suggested by those who ask – or in an architectural practice drawing up plans. The graduates of urban governance can be seen in real estate companies and architectural practices, but also in parish and city governments. Therefore, it seems there is no lack of choices. 

There is a lot of talk of a sustainable and environment-friendly city, focusing mainly on innovative technical solutions and neglecting the importance of planning and design that are based on the real needs of people. The urban space influences the society and the society, in turn, influences the city. The social and cultural environment and social processes must also be taken into account in order to achieve a balanced urban development. At some stage of planning, someone needs to take a look at the quality of existing or planned space: where the jobs, schools and kindergartens are located, where can people shop and go out in the evenings. In other words: someone needs to connect the space with people and their behaviour. For this reason I think that as the protector of public interests, the representative of urban governance should get involved at the stage where national, municipal or regional strategic plans and visions are composed. It is precisely the process of setting goals for the future where interdisciplinary views and perspectives are necessary to understand how the planned activities will affect the social, economic and physical environment. The viewpoint of urban governance, representing the public or private sector, would be an essential part of the strategic environmental impact assessment, providing an assessment of the impact in other fields apart from the environment. The Ministry of Social Affairs is currently drawing up instructions for assessing social and economic impacts when drawing up plans, however, just one set of instructions is not enough to achieve innovation. Since Estonia is still a freshman when it comes to co-operation and citizen’s initiatives, some regulatory measures are also necessary. For example, a requirement could be introduced, making it mandatory to include people with a background in urban governance when composing strategic development or plans, or at least assessing its impacts, and the results of their analysis should be thoroughly reflected in the relevant documentation. 

Yes, it may seem bureaucratic or even reactionary of me to suggest adding another step into the process, but I believe that even more detailed regulation of processes is required. More and more people express dissatisfaction with their living environment and planned developments. At the moment, this reaches the public eye through the neighbourhood associations but every district does not have a neighbourhood association and not all social groups have a distinctive representative movement. Pedestrians, for example, are especially affected by street space, yet they are not a clearly defined group that could be consulted with.44. In summer 2014 Union of Pedestrians was formed, which is a network for those who wish to contribute to pedestrian friendly living- and mobility design-action and to create conditions needed to achieve. See more from here. Therefore, it is important that the shaping of the future includes people who have the necessary knowledge for representing a great variety of public groups. 

All of the above is my vision of the role of an urban governance. Urban governance as a discipline should be the state’s partner in governance through networks or companies, complementing the legal or technical aspects of the planning process. I find that good preconditions are already in place. Specifically, the specialty is only taught on MA level at Tallinn University. The students’ background, education and previous employment vary greatly (from philosophy to environmental protection). They have realised that they are interested in the conjunction of the city and society and their activities are linked to urban life. The multitude of knowledge and experience makes the learning process livelier and offers very different real situations for discussions, increasing the interdisciplinarity of the specialty even more. And the gained knowledge, in turn, is carried over to various sectors through various jobs, making it possible to influence the different aspects of social development.

Since many people who start urban governance studies have previously held jobs that in part motivated their choice of subject, we are not intent on looking for new applications. Rather, the aim is to continue existing activities with a broader knowledge base and to integrate specialties with each other. However, this means that few urban governance post-graduates end up working in offices or enterprises that are involved with urban planning, in part because they lack technical training, and plans are drawn up and processed, and general trends set, by people who adhere to norms and numbers. We also do not have many networks or companies to join and the existing ones are usually seen as the opponents of official policy, rather than co-operation partners of the state. Since the civil society in Estonia is not very strong yet and inclusive planning is yet to gain popularity, issues related to urban governance rarely reach official discussions and the public. Changes in the process are happening slowly. At the moment, urban thinkers must actively prove that they are necessary and create a job market. We ourselves must speak more loudly about projects where urban governance have had a successful impact and which have resulted in good urban spaces. Problems in planning and the environment in general should also be discussed in more depth in the media to make people understand how urban governance is helping to create a vision of a better city for everyone. 

People do not think of the surrounding urban space as separate objects and they do not assess squares and streets, public and semi-public spaces separately. They are guided by their instincts, whether they enjoy being there or not, whether they are feeling good or not, and whether they can manage their daily chores comfortably or not. The state is interested in creating a comprehensive and sustainable living environment in a specific area, and the owners are interested in the best possible support for their business interests or necessary living conditions. In my vision, the role of the urban governance is to connect the interests and needs of all parties equally and to participate in creating an integrated solution. We all need urban governance because who wouldn’t want to live in a good city?



ÕU-U editors:

Andra Aaloe, Keiti Kljavin (Urbanists' Review U) & Anna-Liisa Unt, Karin Bachmann, Merle Karro-Kalberg (Landscape Architecture Journal ÕU)

Translation and proofreading: 

Kaisa Kaer, Piret Karro, Paul Emmet


Maria Derlõš, Andreas Wagner

Design (pdf / printed work):

Marje ja Martin Eelma (Tuumik Studio)


August Künnapu, Esa Laaksonen, Maris Kerge, Silvia Pärmann, Aet Ader, Katrin Koov, Merle Karro-Kalberg, Helen Tammemäe, Anna-Liisa Unt, Karin Bachmann, Tiit Remm, Kadri Leetmaa, Kaja Pae, Findo Kveiks, Maarin Mürk, Ott Kagovere, Tanel Kuningas, Liina Lelov, Triinu Pungits, Aare Pilv, Andres Tennus, Sven Vabar, Robert Kähr, Tõnu Laigu, Gabriela Liivamägi, Juhan Teppart, Oliver Orro, Laura Mirtel, Sarah Blee, Kristi Grišakov, Marje Eelma, Kaie Kuldkepp, Maiken Vardja, Keiti Kljavin, Kaija-Luisa Kurik, Jaak Sova, Merlin Rehema, Andra Aaloe, Sten Tamkivi


Maarin Mürk, Friedrich Kuhlmann, Grete Veskiväli, Ingrid Ruudi, Krista Kodres, Tauri Tuvikene, Triin Ojari, Maroš Krivý, Silja Loik, Mikko Laak, Kaie Kuldkepp, Kristi Grišakov