Estonian National Museum
TARTU (EE) - The competition-winning design by Dan Dorell, Lina Ghotmeh and Tsuyoshi Tane is a spatial journey that is as flexible, provocative and experientially rich as possible.
After ten years of economic growth at a capitalist tempo, the former Soviet Union still strikes the rest of the world as an exotic place, even a post-Soviet theme park. The regime that proclaimed utopia for nearly half a century may be gone, but it has left indelible marks on the local environment. The sensitive issue of recognizing and interpreting this situation became a key challenge of the architecture competition for the new Estonian National Museum. What was possibly the most important competition of the decade in Estonia, unexpectedly raised a number of questions related to the specifics of architecture, such as identity, genius loci and interpretation of recent history. It is a fair while since an architectural design provoked such a wide discussion in Estonia on architecture's capacity to symbolize the nation's complicated history.
The museum will be located on the outskirts of Tartu at Raadi, an old country estate where it stood before World War II. The setting is by no means picturesque; during the Soviet era the site was a military airfield (which meant that Tartu was closed to outsiders). It is impossible to ignore the aggressive remnants of this past, but nearly all of the proposals did precisely that. The winning design, the aptly named 'Memory Field', was an exception, uniting the history of the place with the 'story' told by the exhibits.
The international competition attracted 108 entries, of which only twelve came from Estonia. The jury, headed by Estonia's minister of culture and including only one foreign member (Dutch architect Winy Maas), made a very bold decision in choosing the entry by three young architects, Dan Dorell (Paris), Lina Ghotmeh (Paris) and Tsuyoshi Tane (London). It envisages a 350-metre-long glass building, with an outdoor extension in the shape of a one-kilometre runway. Visitors are guided through the exhibition spaces of the greyish, one-storey building out onto an airfield receding into infinity: the 'memory field'. This is a huge public space, a place for open-air sculptures and outdoor events. The design has just the right amount of provocativeness and lyrical sensibility for a symbolic building; it is critical of its context while at the same time demythologizing traditional museum building hierarchies.
The architecture of post-Soviet Estonia has been praised for being free of clichés and open to competition. The National Museum competition proves this yet again. There have been some complaints that the winning work shamelessly turns the Soviet legacy into an aesthetic object, but this is to ignore the nature of the National Museum, which is expected to be both a storehouse of national heritage and an international attraction. The winning entry's vision looks as if it might just achieve this dual objective.
May | 2006 | Estonia | Triin Ojari