Since time immemorial architecture has been international by its very nature. Professional international contacts are vital also today, in our open society and in times of rapid change. The Nordic-Baltic Architectural Triennial has developed into an architecture forum worth consideration. In 1996 it was held in Tallinn for the third time.
Within the framework of the triennials several exhibitions and scientific conferences have been held where in addition to architects from Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, the Faeroe Isles, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, guest lecturers were also invited. Aldo van Eyck, Sverre Fehn, Carl Nyren, Henning Larsen, Juhani Pallasmaa, Günter Behnisch and several other internationally well-known architects lectured at the triennials of 1990 and 1993.
The subject of the first triennial in 1990 was “Metropolitanism and Provincialism”, and we have to remember that Estonia was still a part of the Soviet Union at that time. At that time, contacts with the Nordic and Baltic architects were of special importance to us. The topic of the second triennial in 1993 “Architecture and Individuality” seemed to be a guarantee of survival for Estonia, a recently liberated small country striving towards Europe. The socialist period had left behind a legacy of economic chaos, dilapidated buildings and a sluggish construction market.
By the time the 3rd Nordic-Baltic Architectural Triennial took place in September 1996, the situation had greatly changed: construction and business activities had skyrocketed. The motto of the triennial was “Space with Water”, with special regard to coastal areas that had for a long time been closed for ordinary citizens and reflected the militaristic past. By 1996, several new terminals had been built in Tallinn harbour but on the whole the district was full of contrasts as demolition and construction work was simultaneous. Yet the Harbour district en bloc was architecturally unplanned (started only in 1996/1997). Two years ago, when choosing the theme for the triennial and seeing an interesting prospect in the Tallinn Harbour district, the organising committee (Irina Raud, Leonhard Lapin, Vilen Künnapu, Andres Siim and the undersigned) could not hope that the area in question would become so extremely topical exactly in August-September of 1996.
In essence, the triennial has not been a didactic undertaking directly aimed at practical output. The main interest has been in establishing and strengthening contacts, exchanging ideas and introducing one’s own brand of architecture. During the round table discussion, the public reproached the architects: why do they discourse upon global topics and do not intervene when a suspicious business projects competition is being organised for the harbour district. In an answer to that it can be said that during their daily work architects search for solutions to thousands of problems. They do not have time to argue with politicians. Still, the architects hope that the competition was only an introduction to the harbour issue and that it will be followed by open architectural competition and discussions.
The Third Nordic-Baltic Architectural Triennial began with an exhibition of installations on the promenade of the Admiralty Basin. The route from the polished Rotermann Architecture and Art Centre through the backyards full of railway sleepers, dilapidated houses and buses was planned by the organisers on purpose as a little reminder of the past and an introduction into the theme of space and water. The authors of the installations (Urmas Mikk, Urmas Muru, Urmas Luure, August Künnapu, Hanno Kreis, Andres Siim, Jüri Ojaver, Andres Ojari, Markus Kaasik, Inga Raukas, Ilmar Valdur) mainly proceeded from the genius loci of the place although brighter future prospects were also presented. It is obvious, as the surroundings of the basin have undergone a tremendous change thanks to the new terminals and road network.
The triennial conference took place in the Rotermann Salt Storage, whilst the exhibition of architecture was held at Tallinn Art Hall. The lecturers proceeded from given themes, treating the relations of water and architecture both by way of their own art and on a broader scale as well. A true poet showed in a Spanish architect Alberto Campo Baeza who in addition to water also emphasised the role of light in the art of architecture. A pleasant discovery made on the basis of both the lectures and the conference was the recognition that Latvian and Lithuanian architecture is also going through a time of change. Moscow’s guest lecturer Mischa Belov’s conceptual projects were amazing and have won several international competitions in Japan and Germany and are known as “paper architecture”. Evelyne Anderson and Lars Erik Nordland from Norway introduced the projects of the students of Bergen University and their own art.
The Estonian lecturer was an artist Tõnis Vint who is well known for his radical ideas. He spoke about geomancy of the Hanseatic towns, explained his project for the island of Naissaare and supported bringing to life the crumbling and neglected outskirts of Tallinn. “When further constructing Tallinn, we have to go by the rules of the game that were followed by the ancient founders of the town. Tallinn is built to reach Heaven. The beginning of great Tallinn are the island of Naissaare and the Kopli and Paljassaare peninsulae. These are places where contact with the Higher is born,” said Vint.
The biggest part of the exhibition in Art Hall was occupied by the Estonian exposition which this time was made up of works by four architectural agencies. Raivo Puusepp, Irina Raud and Tarmo Okava, Ülo Peil and Emil Urbel, Ell Väärtnõu and Andres Ringo presented completed buildings, projects, reconstructions, plannings and competition pieces.
The Third Nordic-Baltic Architectural Triennial brought together more than 270 people, and there were also guests from the United States, Canada and Germany. Most essential is still the fact that architects left their offices, their everyday work, for a while, met people in pleasant surroundings and could talk about topics which are of importance to them. This is quite something in a situation where even good friends and colleagues can unexpectedly turn into competitors. The triennial reached the common conclusion that there is enough water and space in Estonia. There should be enough of these for everybody.