Two LasnamäesEstonian Institute
Leena Torim
Lasnamäe The first people arrived on the coasts of Tallinn Bay a few millennia ago, and laid the foundations of the town. Local landscape was diverse. Two rivers (Härjapea and Pirita) flowing into a shaded bay, Lake Ülemiste, a small cliff right by the sea (Toompea). A mighty, bare and windy limestone plateau in the centre of the curving coastline, between the mouths of the two rivers. This plateau is the present Lasnamäe.
At first the settlement was located in Iru, the eastern side of the klint at Pirita River. Later Tallinn moved closer to the sea, to the Toompea plateau a few kilometres west from Lasnamäe. The windswept Lasnamäe remained the habitation for sheep and other beasts. Although no town was then erected on top of the hill, Tallinn was built of that particular elevation, ie the limestone cut from the cliff was transformed into seaside churches, merchants' houses, town walls and the town hall.
In the early 20th century the Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen created a new modern version for the ancient Hanseatic town, called Greater Tallinn. Lasnamäe, so far an unshakeable cliff by the sea and a windy plateau, was beginning to show potential in turning from landscape to town. This was the place, towering above the sea, where Tallinn was then supposed to emerge.

Lasnamäe One of the slogans of the singing revolution that led to regaining independence was: "Stop Lasnamäe!" There was no longer any talk of klint or plateau, as the limestone cliff had in fact halted already at the end of the last Ice Age. No, people had in mind another Lasnamäe - the honeycomb structures of panel houses, the channel-road carved into the klint, residential districts and migrants.
Lasnamäe, the last and largest of the three big soviet time residential areas in Tallinn, has the most complicated and interesting planning. On either side of the motorway, various shopping and service centres of the new districts spread forth, forming the hearts of the micro districts. A green corridor was designed between the two structures that crawled along the alvars like creeping plants. Schoolhouses and kindergartens were gently positioned amongst greenery. In the heart of Lasnamäe (both landscape and high-rise district) is the Tondi marsh, the supposed centre of the urban district.
The fanciful ideal town was unfortunately never completed. I hereby boldly claim that in its final version Lasnamäe would have been a pearl of modernist planning. The arcade formed of pedestrian and vehicle bridges across the channels, variously composed smaller areas, fast-going trams, artists' studios on the top floors of the apartment houses - this is but a short list of the special nuances in the design of Lasnamäe.

Lasnamäe The two Lasnamäes now form a peculiar whole. Children of local schools explore the plants on the alvars in the biology lessons (this is one of the most species-rich natural associations). The ghosts of our times are busy in the marshland. The smoke from their bonfires rises from behind the ploughed mounds of turf. The municipality landscape architects make an occasional futile attempt to plant some trees and create large lawns on the alvars with a paper-thin layer of earth and tough and stubborn plants. The corridors between high buildings give a vigorous boost to the wind.
When darkness falls, you can gaze into the windows of the neighbouring houses and see thousands of lamps and imagine what life might be like in all those other solar systems. Many windows offer a panoramic view of the sea. From others you can see alvars and the marshland.
Lasnamäe landscape is in a special border situation. The modernist panel houses that have cut it out of the huge carpet of landscape are trying to turn it into wasteland and attach some negative undertone to it. This partly succeeds because a number of unwritten rules seem to operate in creating urban green belts. All plants that have been trimmed, watered and planted seem to be legalised as a green belt. Natural and rampant greenery, perhaps with some thickets, without pavements and park benches, on the other hand, seems unreliable. In due course, these 'disorderly' green areas fill with rubbish heaps, bonfire places and even inhabitants.

Lasnam&aumle Lasnamäe districts actually need alvars and marshland quite badly. As mentioned before, the building of the Lasnamäe urban area was not completed. What are missing is infrastructure and proper green belts. The greenery that has existed on the limestone plateau for millennia, and largely exists even today, is not yet tamed by the city (and vice versa - the city is not nurtured by the nature).
The two Lasnamäes have by no means yet grown together. Marshland and alvars in the midst of tall buildings are trying to continue their existence, and concrete honeycombs with human bees strive to create their own town. Spatially, they stand side by side, but the time of the landscape and the town does not proceed in the same rhythm. It remains to be seen when and if these two will accept each other and start functioning in common time-space. The harsh limestone area with its fragile marsh landscape, alvars covered with tough vegetation, and the grey panel cubes with their windows and hidden solar systems form a poetic whole. If only our era of tin-plate supermarkets with all their supplements would not upset the emerging balance once again.

Leena Torim
(1979), MA at the department of architecture and urban planning at the Estonian Academy of Arts in 2005. Has worked at the architectural bureau 3+1 and completed various joint projects with architect Veronika Valk. Current main job looking after her two small children.

| Estonian Art 1/06 (18) | Published by the Estonian Institute 2006 | ISSN 1406-5711 (Online) | ISSN 1406-3549 (Printed version) | | tel: (372) 631 43 55 | fax: (372) 631 43 56 |