Siiri Vallner: Our work has been the fruit of some of the numerous competitions we have taken part in. Despite the fact that from the start we have been critical of the domination of visual attractiveness in architecture, we have to create something interesting and eye-catching – this explains the complexity of our work. Our competitors are afraid to create something that is not unusual. They follow expectations. Personally, I would like architecture to become simpler – something that is easier to build and that also looks simpler. At least in Estonia it should be like this, considering our limited resources. In theory, our office has already chosen this path, but we still lack courage and skill.
So far we've worked in a fairly narrow segment, mainly public buildings. Architects play a very big role in the development of public buildings and no one tries to ignore the architect. Estonia has a relatively untapped potential for architects to create complex systems that work at the urban level, to give towns back their continuity. What is being done in Estonian towns right now seems very inefficient and chaotic and hard to use. I don't feel that there is a need to invent anything completely new in architecture. But at the level of the city the need is really urgent. For example, how cars and people could coexist in cities in spite of everything. There are no examples from history we can turn to.
In our work we have no problems regarding our role. But when I look at the big picture, I wonder who can really change things. Walking around town I see how insignificant architecture actually is, how the facade of a building is quite trifling compared to the fact of cars driving on the footpath. The architect's role is actually quite minor. To change something in the city you need hundreds of people acting together, not one or two lone people. At the moment the most we can do is ride a bicycle instead of driving a car.
Interdisciplinary thinking and borrowing from other fields has allowed architects to generate new ideas, quickly and painlessly. This need for originality has partially been created by the architecture media. The greatly expanded number of publications need to be filled with something. But it is impossible in architecture to produce an earth-shattering debut every month. Architecture is a very slow field.
I myself am very practical and try to translate every abstract notion into space. If I am not able to create a spatial connection and what is left is only two-dimensional diagrams, then it doesn't have the kind of architectural power that would be captivating in the long term. But in general, architects derive a benefit from the 'domestication' of different ways of thinking. When people say that the world, together with architecture, is changing rapidly, I don’t go along with this. Estonia is a poor country so anything that is built needs to last as long as possible. Durability and endurance are important – though maybe old-fashioned. If we talk about other disciplines that are related to architecture, then we very rarely get an idea by working through the material or the statistics from that other field. Ideas arise from our creative processes, mostly from our emotions. We don't stumble upon them by accident.
Architecture should provide positive impulses. Though this influence cannot be as direct as music, architecture could work in the same way as nature or art – lighten the everyday and give life a deeper meaning. Our architecture is born from endless experimentation. We might seek solutions for hours on end. I think most of my colleagues will agree with me that the work of an architect is one big uncertainty and most of our time is spent on this. If it were possible to avoid uncertainty our working hours could be reduced by close to 90%.
There is a lot of visual noise and uproar in architecture. It's burdensome and fatiguing. A radio can be turned down, but there's no volume button when you're walking around town. Good architecture is a 'full physical' experience; all senses come into play. It's actually the same way with creating architecture. Space is perceived when in motion, so there is no point in visualizing one freeze frame when you're creating architecture, but rather passage through space and the related perceptions. It is said that in the old days materials were cheap and difficult to build with, but today the opposite it true, materials are expensive but easy to work with – the human touch is lacking.
The fact that most of our buildings have been in concrete has been incidental. So far, most of our work has been large and the use of timber would have been inappropriate. Every time we start a new job I think, this time I'll use timber and clay, but it doesn’t work out that way. And this is the case with our most recent competition win, the Viljandi Culture Academy. Yet again, one of many factors (for example sound insulation requirements in such a narrow site) rule out the use of timber.
Architects consume a vast amount of construction materials but the goal in itself is non-material. An energy or an atmosphere, which can be concentrated.
The environment [in Estonia] is brutal and there is a certain attraction in this roughness. Tallinn is an incredibly ugly city. I have tried to use this as an inspiration. What is interesting for our generation is that we have seen great and ongoing changes, but we have also been able to change a lot. The way the city changes beyond recognition – to see places that are very familiar to me disappearing – this is a sign of the times. While most people have many constants in the city, for me the last constant is the Estonian Academy of Arts building in Tallinn's city centre. My childhood homes and my school don't exist anymore, and because of land improvement even my grandfather's country home has been altered beyond recognition. If the Art Academy, where I have been going for 20 years, should disappear, I would be a modern person without an anchor.