Caring for Ida-Viru? Tracing Frontiers of Shrinkage

Caring for Ida-Viru? 

Tracing Frontiers of Shrinkage

We kindly invite you to the exhibition and final grading of Urban Studies and Interior Architecture Urban Models studio tutored by Kristi Grišakov & Keiti Kljavin. Please join us 1st of April, 15:00 in the EKA courtyard. The exhibition has been collectively curated by students of urban studies, architecture and urban planning and interior architecture. 

Urban decline in East-Estonia presents itself in a state of flux: it is tied to the area’s contested past but also allows a peek into the future. Multiple facets of shrinkage manifest in landscapes of extractivistic production, where the line between nature and man-made environment is increasingly difficult to draw. Although urban shrinkage is often associated with deteriorated buildings, abandoned and fragmented urban environments, if we choose to look through another lens there are multiple layers of phenomenologically dense experiences of decline that can provide acceptance and perseverance. Whether shrinking cities are distressing cities is a point of contention that urges us to rethink why cities are only ever received positively and linearly through growth, and whether or why shrinkage is seen as the opposite of growth. Should it be?

The Urban Models studio and its final project Caring for Ida-Viru? Tracing Frontiers of Shrinkage explores various questions related to tangible and intangible aspects of habitation in Ida-Viru county. Urban districts and towns of Ahtme, Järve and Kiviõli, where changing policies and approaches in urban governance aim to respond to the surplus of housing caused by the outmigration of people are in focus. Students of urban studies, architecture and interior architecture collaborated in exploring, reinventing and rethinking approaches towards shrinkage, adaptation and re-use. Some try to trace the stories that are subsumed in the industrially toxic air of Ida-Virumaa. Others attempt to take a peek into the everyday life that has somehow frozen in time. The students’ used relevant literature and explored case studies with experimental media and techniques in order to deliver final projects challenging the condition of shrinkage in Eastern Estonia. 


Students: Paula Veidenbauma, Ljudmila Funika-Müür, Kush Badhwar, Augustas Lapinskas, Karen Isabel Talitee, Kelli Puusepp, Nabeel Imtiaz, Luca Liese Ritter, Julia Freudenberg, Kristiina Puusepp, Paul Simon, Christian Hörner, Hannah Mühlbach, Loviise Talvaru, Khadeeja Farrukh, Nora Soo, Jannik Kastrup. 

Guest critics: Roland Reemaa (, Gregor Taul (EKA), Jüri Kermik (EKA), Johanna Holvandus (TÜ)



Opposing the Desert 

EKA courtyard terrace

an interactive installation by Paula Veidenbauma and Ljudmila Funika-Müür

Shrinking cities are aging cities. Enclosed by panels, slippery roads, railway tracks, and liminal landscape, elderly tend to be tied closely with their homes, not receiving enough soft care from the local municipality. While focusing on the topic of the invisibility of loneliness amongst the retried, the project tackles spatial isolation while looking at it from the perspective of the city district of Ahtme. It investigates public space in relation to a private space once inhabited by a senior teacher living in Ahtme’s Sõpruse street Soviet panel building. The installation tackles the findings revealed through critical geography, in parallel exploring the state of social services in Ahtme. How many borders does one have to overcome in order to be cared for? Can public space enable caring relationships between people, place, and materials, towards a city interested in investing resources beyond growth?



EKA library 

illustrated children’s book presentation and readings by Kush Badwahr, Augustas Lapinskas and Karen Isabel Talitee

Ida (meaning ‘east’ in Estonian but also referring to the ancient Germanic root ‘id’ meaning ‘labor, work’) is an eight year old resident of Ida-Virumaa asking herself what she would like to do when she grows up. On her way home from school, she has various interactions – with a soon to retire army officer, a group of young boys, a bird, her visiting aunt and an ex-miner – that relate to their life and work in the region in which they live. The interactions Ida has and the illustrations that make up the book are based on interviews and research exploring the nature of work, unemployment and retirement and its connections to issues of shrinkage and de-growth in the area. Ida is both a metaphor of the contemporary state of the region and a children’s book that makes these topics accessible through an illustrated narrative form.


Underneath the layers

@ the EKA spiral staircase

panorama installation by Kelli Puusepp and Nabeel Imtiaz

As the stones burned in the beginning of the 20th century, the towns in the East of Estonia started to grow. As the terrain in the backdrop was being dug deep, people moved in – families with all their personal belongings. Children played in the parks and their familiarity brought households closer. Memories of good times were made – over on the sidewalks and alleys, behind and in between the walls of Kohtla-Järve homes. As the underground sphere expanded, the mines got deeper, consequently developing the life on the surface. Though the estates grew denser, their expansion was halted by the end of the century. It all fell back inwards, imploding into themselves, throwing the community into an uncertainty. What was left were the remnants of the spaces once inhabited.

The story traces the history of socio-spatial formations and disintegration of the society that once formed Kohtla-Järve. 


Nothing Power: where absent matter matters


exhibition by Luca Liese Ritter and Julia Freudenberg 

In Ida-Virumaa, shrinkage refers to the complex consequences of going away, becoming less, fading into thin air. People move, things disappear, services close, concrete panels decay and houses are demolished. What remains in those places that were inhabited by heterogeneous matter is a void. But this emptiness is not empty in the sense of a nothingness, a nirvana; rather, it continues to be quasi-present, conceivably retaining many of its material aspects and thus its place in the fabric of socio-material relations that shape the experience of living in and coping with urban shrinkage. 

Our project explores the affective flows between what is gone and what remains, and seeks to highlight the complicated intertwining of cause and effect that residents and policymakers must navigate as they confront the challenges of population loss and subsequent over-provision of housing infrastructure. ——————————————————————-

…so we can keep on watching eesti laul in the future


house by Kristiina Puusepp and Paul Simon

In the future, Ida-Virumaa will see rapid transformation. The excavation of oil shale, one of the main social and economic pillars of the region, is not in keeping with the reality of the climate crisis. The concept of a ‘just transition’ demands a change-over satisfying both workers rights and environmental care. Originally being required by labor- and environmental activists, the term is meanwhile used by different governmental actors. In Ida-Virumaa, the EU supports the endeavor of a just transition with 340 Million Euros. While the funding will not directly finance housing, by striving for a future-oriented industry, it is the base structure for securing homes for local residents. Despite attempts for widespread participation of just transition, the transformation is mostly directed by demands and plans from external groups and higher institutions. By thematizing the ambiguous relationship between this ‘outside’ and the local population, the project raises the question how we should position ourselves in the process of transition.


The Last Layer, the Next Layer? Signs for those who choose to stay 


video installation by Christian Hörner and Hannah Mühlbach

When exploring the abandoned flats of Kohtla-Järve, we came across an outstanding phenomenon of personal expression and appropriation of space: through its multiple colors, patterns and layerings, wallpaper became the collage-like visual theme of our experience as explorers of Ida-Virumaa shrinking cities’ interiors. Inspired by the creativity and self-expression of those who have left the area, our search for shrinkage re-centered around the idea of creating something for those who still live in the cities that de-grow. We began to play with the idea of decorating facades of abandoned buildings with wallpaper in a graffitti-like manner, as a vehicle of intention, resistance and visibility. This next layer on Ida-Virumaa loses the fatality of linear decline until disappearance and points to an alternative future where abandoned buildings become monuments of persistence rather than unwanted obstacles for liveability. Our installation represents the hypothesis that people, when provided with the means to care for their cities, can re-frame narratives of shrinkage and create an optimistic outlook on Ida-Virumaa’s future.


The Other side of the Coin: Must Shrinkage be Only Tormenting?


mixed media by Loviise Talvaru and Khedeeja Farrukh

Emptiness becomes even more emptier because of our need to define society through community. Kiviõli, one of the many mining towns in Ida-Virumaa, is categorized as an example of urban shrinkage, where dilapidated conditions of facades, rustic reminders of laundry lines, empty apartment buildings, sounds of sea gull penetrating the otherwise silent urbanity urges an outsider to call this environment tormenting. But is that really so?

Must shrinkage be only tormenting? Why is shrinkage antagonistic to growth? Isn’t growth also tormenting? Through this project, a process of personal experiences, of how we perceived shrinkage and how our experience changed it, is depicted. There came a point in our research where we realized that this top-down trajectory of perceptions is quite acute and that urbanity is not an abstraction only to be lived on papers, rather it is an everyday experience. So, we went back to Kiviõli. For good. And for surprises. 

Our approach is not an end-point, but a device of researching, where our visits to Kiviõli enabled an important aspect of experimentation and co-creation, transforming our approach towards shrinkage.


Help yourself with Energy


video and installation by Nora Soo and Jannik Kastrup 

The electricity meter operates between the public and the private realm. Subject to regular control, it softly breaks their boundaries. In economically deprived regions like Ida-Virumaa its reading frequently decides the fate of the inhabitants, pressuring those who are financially incapable to upgrade to more efficient devices.
Tampering with the electricity meter is therefore a common disruptive practice.
However in the spheres of en vogue online life coaching, energy is portrayed as a personal property that can be manipulated according to spiritual practices, detached from economic and political circumstances. Does it mean that anyone can achieve anything being only restricted by imaginary boundaries? Paradoxically, the imaginaries of inhabitants in Ida-Virumaa are limited in a situation of energy poverty. Within this dichotomy of energy as a contested public good and as an individualized spirituality lies one of the challenges of neoliberal capitalist societies. The (video) installation plays with diverging concepts of energy by audiovisually overlapping and rearranging these distinct narratives.  


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Posted by Keiti Kljavin