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Tallinn stops onslaught of high-rise buildings

by Alexander Suits, Tallinn, special report to the BC

For now the city is holding out against the onslaught by high-rise buildings. The architects of the old school have pointed out, though, that Tallinn lacks overall architectural strategy therefore one can expect new skyscrapers to rise in the most unexpected places.

Favourite hotel of Finnish tourists

Hotel Viru, built in 1972 by Finnish architects, became the first high-rise building in Tallinn. The 22-storied hotel cannot boast any exquisite architectural details and represents a flat parallelepiped. Regardless of the simplicity of form, Viru still remains the favourite hotel of Finnish tourists.

The construction of the skyscraper over thirty years ago caused a big scandal because, notwithstanding all assurances of architects to the contrary, the Viru building did spoil the classical outline of the city known to all consumers from the label of canned Tallinn sprats and still referred to as "the sprat-can silhouette".

Photo: E.Prozes, Ariepaev

Unispank, Tallin

It should be said that back then Tallinn was being developed in accordance with a strict plan. The effects of the would-be high-rise building on the city silhouette were examined from some twenty-five perspectives before the actual construction began but, regretfully, in practice things did not turn out as well as in theory, and Dmitry Brunks, the then chief architect of Tallinn, still thinks of the Viru as his biggest mistake.

Horizontal development preferred

By the way, it was because of the scandal over construction of Hotel Viru that the next huge building by Tallinn standards was developed along horizontal rather than vertical lines. The Tallinn City Hall, built in 1979 and regarded as a monument of architecture, fits perfectly in the city outline as seen from the sea. Until the beginning of this century it was the largest concert venue in Tallinn.

But Olympic Games 1980 was the factor that Tallinn architects were unable to resist. The 26-stories Hotel Olumpia, built specifically for the Olympics, also lacks dazzling architectural features – it's the same parallelepiped, only showing a square in cross-section. Olumpia did further damage to "the sprat-can silhouette" but back then there was no time to think about it. 

More attacks on classic outline

More attacks on the classic outline of the Tallinn city were made in the late 1990s: first Uhispank with its asymmetric glass-and-metal structure which was the highest in whole Tallinn, then Radisson SAS with a mysterious red ñloset on the top. They say, though, that the closet was put up there for the simple reason of making the building a couple of metres higher than the Uhispank tower.

No more high-rise buildings have been erected in Tallinn since then but architects now and again return to the debate about the need to keep or not to keep to the already visibly damaged "sprat-can silhouette". So far the city has been able to withstand the onslaught of skyscrapers and the local City district near Viru does not stick out of the surrounding cityscape.

The architects of the old school have pointed out, though, that Tallinn lacks overall architectural strategy therefore one can expect new skyscrapers to rise in the most unex