Strelka at the Tallinn Architectural Bienniale (TAB)

13.09.2013, 08:57
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The second Tallinn Architecture Biennale, with the theme “Recycling Socialism”, opened on September 4th. The biennale comprises of an architecture schools exhibition, symposium, vision competition and curators exhibition, which will remain open until the end of the month.

A team of Strelka graduates — Lindsay Harkema, Ondrej Janku, Izabela Cichonska and Nathan de Groot participated in the Vision Competition. The competition focused on the development strategies for one of Tallinn’s residential neighbourhoods — Vaike-Oismae, built in the 1970s, and known for its unique layout, with buildings spread out in an oval-shaped plan and a pond in the middle. Their project Assembled Ground was awarded the first prize.

The main questions that curators asked to the participants to focus on was whether geometric order could be a basis for a comfortable and enjoyable living environment, as well as how to recycle ideas from the past and apply them to the current context.

The jury on the winning concept:

“The project stood out for its essentially simple and well-demonstrated idea — to open up the ground floors of the apartment buildings together with the central area, and to make them available for public use. The facade panels as well as the building constructions and frames will be recycled. The lower stories of buildings are transformed into open business and cultural spaces, and the central area is turned into an outdoor, multi-purpose space that favours public use. The authors of the winning entry highlighted the lasting values of the Vaike-Oismae plan, and offered a clever strategy for creating a new environment and space, which is possible to carry out and execute gradually — even over the course of the upcoming decade”.

Ondrej Janku:

It was an interesting coincidence that we found out about the competition in Tallinn when we were dealing with similar issues in Moscow and conducting research on similar topics that were in the brief of the competition. We thought it was a great opportunity to test in practice what we were researching in Moscow on a more theoretical level.

We started by analysing the site in the context of the city and compared it with what we knew about microrayons and similar situations in Moscow. The initial stages of the project was a collective effort. We were basically simulating a process that was common for Strelka research studios: gathering data, looking for information, and putting our findings together.

We felt we had a great chance to learn from Moscow, where all the issues that we discovered at Tallinn’s competition site were also present, though in a more visible and intensified way. We realised that because of this, we had an advantage over other competitors located elsewhere.

I think that we were quite analytic in our approach. Based on a proper analysis, we were able to put together a list of issues to address through urban and architectural interventions and changes in the system.

Just to give you an example: we saw that the big issue there was lack of orientation. This neighbourhood is so big and disorienting that once you are there, you can’t actually recognise at what part of the circle you are standing. We thought that we had to divide the ground into more discernible parts, but at the same time we wanted to connect the site with the surrounding neighbourhood rather then subdivide it even more.

The topic of the biennale is “Recycling Socialism” and yes, we are re-using local materials: facade panels and even soil from newly build canal would stay in site to be used for additional ground level features. But at the same time we wanted to emphasise the fact that “recycling socialism” doesn’t only mean rebuilding the tangible socialist heritage but also rebuilding the former ideology of social life into a more contemporary form.

So we are recycling socialism on this physical level which means reusing the materials, and at the same time we’re trying to prove that this communal or social spirit of that former Soviet site could be recycled in a good way at the same time.

I was always more confident in participating in more practical architectural solutions, and the theme of recycling or re-evaluating the past, was very much connected with history and politics, something I’ve never done before. Strelka was really helpful in providing the background for the whole competition brief because we had already been dealing with these problems in Russia and in Moscow for quite a long time. I think that also gave us the confidence to work on this competition”.

One of the main ideas of the biennale was to use buildings that are either abandoned, not in use, or are inaccessible to a wider public. This was strictly limited to a period lasting from the 1960s until the 1980s, and therefore directly connected to Socialism. One of these places is the Linnahall, formerly a concert hall and sports arena, now the venue for the architecture schools exhibition. Other creative and innovative reuse of spaces could be seen in the Vision Competition, with proposals centred around the Vaike-Oismae district, and the exhibition and award ceremony taking place at an abandoned school there.

Strelka took part in the architecture schools exhibition, where over the course of two days, experts and students from different architecture schools like the Politecnico di Milano, Innsbruck University’s Laboratory of Experimental Architecture and the Oslo School of Architecture and Design, shared their projects and methodologies with visitors.