Karin Paulus: Fertile Architecture

Several public buildings that form functional miniature ecologies, impacting our human qualities and sense of proportion through their scale, have been erected in Purtse and Palamuse.

The public perception of Estonian rural life is something reminiscent of a horror story, a heroic epos or romanticised arcadia. True, emergency response is not overly quick to reach a village enclosed in forests, an abundant storm may cause a fight for existence, and esoteric neo-communities are actively inventing a new social order. Yet, there are a number of places where life runs smoothly, rather modestly and without existential chaos. It would be a fair, unexaggerated statement that purposefully informed architecture plays a significant role here. Funding from the EU and regional programmes have enabled the building of many new structures in rural areas. Purtse and Palamuse are great examples of what can be achieved with a well-written project proposal by contributing equal amount of thought to high quality environments and contemplating on what the surroundings might actually need in the long run. 


One of the most vivid examples is the Purtse area that has undergone a renaissance of sorts. Culture hobbyists probably know this place in Virumaa by the 16th century fortress residence, representing a 1980s tonality of rather cumbersome restauration style. By now, the harbour at the river mouth has been fixed (2015) and edifices rousing not only the former fishermen’s village Liimala (population 56 in 2018) but the entire region have been built. The traditionalist Tulivee restaurant on the humongous sand beach was completed in 2017 (architect Ralf Tamm, interior architects Angela Orgusaar, Andrea Tamm). The fully wooden modest building seems like an extension to a boathouse – simple, as if attempting to not disturb the eye too much. The main effect comes from the undulating roof, constructed using glued laminated timber frames shifted in various directions. The interior is sure to leave an imprint on those who have come to enjoy the delicious tastes and drinks offered here in a warm, open space radiating with romantic beach-inspired details such as glass buoys in nets hanging from the ceiling.

A good idea accompanied by the seminal influence of Enterprise Estonia (EAS), the European Regional Development Fund and other major benefactors has led to subsequent steps and created a unique „whole package“. A guest house with a mini-exposition on the subject of bootleg trafficking, that is (often heroised) criminal activity, has emerged in the neighbourhood of the restaurant.The design is surprisingly pleasant, featuring a nordic sense of lightness in the rooms surrounded by a dark outer body. The set is complemented by a pavilion with a gable roof, meant for dining but also suitable as a stage area, and a perky observation tower. The interior design and sketches were made by Kerttu Mäesalu whose work was continued by Kalju Kisand. The stylistic wholeness, the use of timber throughout the design and a communal dimension are what earned the Tulivee museum of spirit smuggling and concert centre the Wooden Building of the Year 2019 award.


A fair share of new houses have appeared in Palamuse lately, inspiring the continuity of the beloved film and literature tourist destination in cultural memory. The Palamuse Parish Schoolhouse and village were celebritised by the juicy stories of Oskar Luts, later perpetuated by theatre productions and even more so by the films of Arvo Kruusement. The physical dimensions of the former schoolhouse became too small as the village grew and education progressed, and learning was distributed between many buildings, which led to the establishment of a completely new, fully modernist school building in 1975. Fortunately, the iconic schoolhouse that had been left empty during the nationalist whir got attached to a new purpose of use, and a hundred years after the birth of Luts, in 1987, a museum was opened in the building.


Read more from Maja’s 2020 winter edition (No 99). Maja is on sale in Estonia, for international subscribers click here to order the magazine.

KARIN PAULUS is devoted to writing about architecture and design, curating exhibitions, and teaching at the Estonian Academy of Arts, Pallas University of Applied Sciences and Tallinn University of Technology.

HEADER photo by Kristjan Kruuser, Tulivee museum of bootleg and concert place.


Summer-fall 2022: Built Heritage and Modern Times