EKA architecture students are examining the project of the Tartu City Center Cultural Center

The proposed location of the Tartu culture centre at the edge of a city centre park. Photo: Maanus Kullamaa

The Department of Architecture and Urban Design of the Estonian Academy of Arts will be working on the city of Tartu this spring semester, at the invitation of the city itself, to help better prepare for the title of European Capital of Culture in 2024. To this end, hands were shaken (in the most virus-proof way) with Tartu city architect Tõnis Arjus to analyse the idea of ​​a cultural center in the heart of Tartu as well as the development of Tartu urban space more broadly within the framework of three studios.

Tartu city architect Tõnis Arjus admits that cooperation with EKA is a great opportunity to interpret the development of urban space even more diversely and supports the city’s ambitions for research-based development. “In the case of the Südalinna Cultural Center project, this cooperation gives the city great support in refining the idea and preparing for the international architectural competition, giving the opportunity to consider different place-based spatial approaches already during the preliminary work.”

With the Südalinna Cultural Center, the city of Tartu wants to provide better opportunities for exhibiting art to the Tartu Art Museum, which has long needed new premises, help the city library bring literature and reading more conveniently to everyone and create a modern 500-seat concert and conference hall in Tartu. But the ambition of the venture is greater than giving 22,000 new square meters of culture. The aim is to create a public space that is both a landmark and a daily gathering place, and that the proposed new city center is built of wood, modern climate-friendly, open in all directions and intertwined with a park area and an increasingly lively riverside area.

According to Andres Ojari, Dean of the Faculty of Architecture of EKA, the complex and exciting space program makes the Tartu City Center Cultural Center an exciting study project for students, because a way must be found to blend the new building with the historic city center of Tartu to become a natural part of public space. It is extremely important for students to see and perceive the real processes taking place in urban planning and to have a say in the development of a modern city center.

Under the guidance of architects Sille Pihlak, Siim Tuksam and Austrian engineer Adam Orlinski, architecture students will be able to present their vision of what a climate-neutral, energy-efficient, wooden modular building could look like that would meet the needs of cultural audiences and organisers. In addition, the proposed project must be flexibly linked to the surrounding city park and urban space, and the author of each project must consider 22,000 m2 of space (for comparison: Kumu Art Museum is about 25,000 m2, Helsinki Library Oodi about 18,000 m2): gallery space, recreation areas, library, etc. Sille Pihlak, who has just defended her doctoral dissertation on the future visions of wooden architecture at EKA, says that students are engaged in modular design because the volume and structure of a large wooden modular building can be changed more easily and climate-friendly than conventional monolithic structures.

Students pay special attention to the energy design of the cultural center – how to integrate climate-neutral and low-carbon thinking into the design process at an early stage: plan a building that is sustainable using the parameters and context of a specific place.

However, the very first stage of the work is a thorough site study: students map and understand the area of ​​the future cultural center from the perspective of creating a new space, analyse the use and users of the space, supervised by Mattias Malk, an urbanist and EKA doctoral student.

In addition to the cultural center, EKA architecture students will take part in several other Tartu-centric study projects this spring – 1st year students are planning wooden shelters in Tartu and will build one of them at the end of the summer. However, 4th year students look to the distant future and ask: what should be done in Tartu in terms of urban planning with a view to 2050.

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Posted by Triin Männik